Recipe by Ozlem Ennor. Photography & styling by Tanya Zouev.
What a magical thing it is to form friendships with people from different countries. In the time I’ve known my Turkish friend Ozlem, I have learned more about her countries’ cuisine than I’ve ever been able to by visiting Turkish restaurants or reading cookbooks on the subject. For someone such as myself who adores Ottoman food, this a real honour.
One of the many wonderful dishes she has taught me to make is acuka (pronounced ah-djoo-kah), the red pepper and walnut based sauce which is traditionally used as a spread on bread. I call this pesto-like spread “magic sauce” because it makes so many things taste amazing. I’ve eaten it slathered on meat and fish, dipped bread and crackers into it, stirred it through scrambled eggs, dropped it into soup and even eaten it by the spoonful.
The original version of acuka is said to be from Syria and there are also variations such as muhummara in the Middle-East and adjik or adjika in Georgia and Russia. Some versions are spicy, some versions are not, some contain tomato as a main ingredients, others have a focus more the red pepper ingredient.
The key to success in making it is to get a really good sun-dried paprika paste. I buy the Turkish Oncü brand of “bilber salçasi” from Oriental & Continental Foods in Sydney’s Artarmon, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of foreign and exotic foods. This particular brand of paprika paste is very concentrated, giving the sauce a deep, full flavour. It is quick and easy to make, just throw all the ingredients into a small food processor and blend. The trick however is to blend it until it’s just short of completely smooth as you want a bit of texture (and before the walnuts turn into nut butter and split.)
Acuka has become a staple in our kitchen and I make it often these days. Trust me on this, once you hunt down the paprika paste you’ll be buying jars by the boxful and making this sauce as regularly as I do. And whilst you’re at it send a little thank you to Ozlem, I certainly do each time I make her magic sauce.
Makes around 1 cup. Prep time 10 mins, cooking time 5 mins.
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup mild paprika paste (available from Turkish and Middle-Eastern grocers)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
(Salt is in both the paprika and tomato pastes I buy so I leave it out of this recipe if yours are the same.)
Place all ingredients into the bowl of a small food processor and blend until almost smooth, you want the spread to retain some texture as in the above photograph.
Photography & styling notes:
I am preferring a less-is-more approach to my food styling and photography these days, shunning over-propping and fussy images. The pesto here is so vibrant that all it needed was a beautiful bowl and a simple cloth to set it off. The bowl would you believe isn’t wooden but some kind of stone and I bought it and the fabric at a local op-shop. Both the distressed wooden surface and the background (which is a piece of old lino flooring) were picked up in local council hard rubbish collections. The only light used in this image is window light.