I was blog-hopping one day when I came upon a recipe for a Pork Cucumber Stir Fry. I was instantly intrigued. Really? Cucumber? I’d never heard of stir-frying cucumber before. I read the post and was even more intrigued. The author talked about something else I’d never heard of called “isot pepper.” Curioser and curioser. She described it as being “imported from Turkey… only a little hot, and with a mahogany color and a mellow, fruity, slightly smoky taste.” Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
Thus began the great search for isot pepper. I scoured our local grocery stores, hunted through Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Nugget Market, foraged around the little food shelves at Ross, Marshalls, and Home Goods, and even checked our local health food stores. All to no avail. So I gave up the dwindling hope of physically purchasing it and instead turned to mail order. Voila! Success at last! Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? I should have started here from the get-go, but was really hoping to find it and bring it home on the same day. Anyway, I found it for a fairly reasonable price at The Spice House where it’s sold under its alternate name “urfa biber.” Is that Turkish? And as luck would have it, they were having a “free shipping” sale! The hardest part of the whole online ordering process was having to wait so many days for my pepper to arrive!
But it was worth it. The isot pepper, a reddish-black crushed pepper with a rich, raisin-like flavor and a little kick of heat to it, was delicious! The 2 teaspoons stirred into the dish were plenty hot enough for me, but Old Goat (who loves super spicy food) sprinkled lots more over his plate. And the cucumber was quite the surprise. It retained its crunch through the quick stir fry and meshed with the flavor of the sauce beautifully. This recipe comes together very quickly once you get all your veggies prepped and is wonderful served over hot, white rice.
ISOT PEPPER PORK & CUCUMBER STIR FRY
(Makes 4 servings)
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 lemongrass stalk, tender part only, smashed and finely minced
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
- 1 English cucumber, sliced into rounds
- 3 stalks green onion, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. isot pepper
For the sauce:
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tsp. sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- In a bowl, mix the pork, soy sauce and cornstarch together with your hands.
- Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add pork and stir fry until cooked. If you want, you can heat a little canola oil in the wok first before adding the pork. I don’t bother because the pork renders its own fat. At first it will seem like it’s sticking to the pan, but just keep stirring and as it cooks, it will loosen and release.
- Once pork is thoroughly cooked, transfer to a bowl and wipe the wok clean.
- Put canola and sesame oil in wok and heat over medium flame.
- When hot, add garlic, ginger, and lemon grass, and stir fry for about 30 seconds.
- Add bell pepper and stir fry for another minute.
- Add cucumber and stir fry for one minute more.
- Add pork and green onions, and stir fry all together for another half minute.
- Give the sauce ingredients a quick stir and pour into the wok.
- Stir all together — the cornstarch will cook very quickly and there will be just enough sauce to coat everything lightly.
- Remove from heat and stir in isot pepper.
- Serve over cooked white rice.
NOTE: When you plate this, scatter more isot pepper over everything with a generous hand before serving. Alternatively, you could serve this as is and pass a small bowl of isot pepper around for guests to sprinkle on themselves.
[Adapted from Blue Kitchen]