If I were asked to think of just one thing that a Turkish kitchen could never be without, it would take me just milliseconds to come up with the answer; Salça – sundried tomato or pepper paste.
Love it or hate it you cannot deny that it is the one ingredient underpinning Turkish cuisine.
Traditionally made by hand using plum tomatoes – which are literally called ‘for paste tomatoes’ during the summer months the tomatoes are skinned and either hand-crushed over a colander or blended before being passed through a sieve to remove any seeds or remaining skins.
The pureed tomatoes are then placed into trays, mixed with salt and left to evaporate and concentrate under the sun for around 3 days which produced a vibrant colour and taste.
Should you wish to speed up the process to just one day you can reduce the puree over an open fire or hob, however, this doesn't achieve that same rich, sun-dried taste that comes from the slow reducing.
The concentration or thickness of the paste is tailored to each family or producer – the thickest being referred to as ‘like a stone’. (Taş gibi)
Commercial varieties a that a produced in big factories re available but they don’t give quite the same taste. Look out for 'Köy' – village varieties which still use the original principles. Or if this isn't available to you, triple tomato concentrate and a little added salt can replace Turkish salça.
In our village, salça is made without fail annually and everyone gets together to share the workload and then splits the end produce.
This year due to work commitments and my mother-in-law recovering from surgery we haven't had the chance to get involved in the big village production. They, of course, will make some on our behalf but it seems like a great opportunity for me to have a go myself - unaided - at home! (Gulp)
If you visit any market here in Turkey at the moment you can not avoid plum tomatoes. The season is well underway and you'll see people buying crate loads of them - at the moment in our area, they've average at about 2 lira a kilo. You can expect 10 kilos of tomatoes to yield around a kilo of 'taş gibi' salça. I targeted around 2 kilos of sundried tomato paste so got busy with 20 kilos of tomatoes.
I knew for sure one thing I was not going to do was grate/puree the tomatoes by hand, I have a great Phillips hand-blended and I wanted to put that at work but I kept to tradition by using a 'suzgeç' basically a metal colander with holes only in the bottom, so I could hand strain the puree and catch the seeds and good solid metal trays for the puree to do the sun drying in.
The preparation itself is not difficult but it is time-consuming. I washed the tomatoes, put a large saucepan full of water to boil and started to score the tomatoes with a cross.
I boiled them for just under a minute and the skins peeled off easily once they were cooled.
I then blended the tomatoes whole and put the puree into the suzgeç in batches. This was actually the fun part - working it in with my hands and watching all those hidden seeds appear. I'd missed a few tomatoes with the blended but they just went into the next batch with no wastage which was pretty super.
As it's out in the sun for a few days the puree does need a good amount salt to keep it from going off - I made a rookie mistake of not weighing my first 2 batches however so I to give a guess as to the amount of salt to put in those batches (oops).
No-cook salça (Some people reduce there's down over the hob / open fire first to speed it up but you lose some of that wonderful sundried taste) should take around 3 days to finish.
Two of my batches were ready in around 3 and half days but one struggled on for a little longer and unfortunately, on the 5th day I woke up to it being mouldy - I'm guessing this was the one that I didn't weigh the tomatoes for.
It also got humid the day before so I'm guessing that didn't help either. I certainly won't make that mistake again in the future.
I was pleased with how to good batched turned out though - it's thick, proper village-style salça and it tastes great, full of tomato flavour with a good salty hit. I can't wait to start using it in my cooking.