Pilpelchuma, or filfel chuma, as it’s also known, is a red chilli paste from the Libyan Jews of Tripoli. A garlicky, spicy and tangy chilli paste, it can be used as an ingredient and a condiment.
This is a very easy recipe, and doesn’t need any cooking apart from the couple of minutes of dry roasting the 2 whole spices, cumin and caraway seeds.
This Libyan Jewish chilli paste was introduced to the world at large when Jerusalem was published, the book by Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. And I’ve had so many questions about it ever since, so here I am, finally delivering on my promise to chat about the recipe.
The word pilpelchuma translates to pepper-garlic in Hebrew, and that basically sums up this most delicious chilli paste. It bears a strong similarity to so many chilli paste recipes we have here on LinsFood, like Chipotle Paste, Harissa and the multi purpose Red Chilli Paste. :
Jews in Libya? Absolutely, once upon a time.
Libyan Jews can trace their history back to around 300 BCE, when the Sahara Desert, which now covers 90% of Libya, was a lush, green expanse. Theirs was a thriving, cosmopolitan community, especially under Italian rule in modern Libya.
Sadly though, not a single Jew is to be found in the Libya of today. I’m going to explore a little Libyan Jewish history in my next post, when we’ll be cooking a traditional fish recipe from this cuisine. It’s this reader requested post, Chraime (Aharaimi) that prompted today’s spicy little number, as I always use it in that recipe.
Filfel Chuma, in its most basic form, is made with dried red chillies (or chilli powder/paprika), garlic and lemon juice. Its garlicky, spicy and tangy, as we ascertained right off the bat.
Cumin and caraway add some earthy depth and a hint of smokiness to this Libyan Chilli sauce. And there are a few more ingredients that you can add, if you like, but more of that later.
I learnt this recipe from an old colleague, Moise A. He would always bring food from home for lunch, and it was, without fail, always delicious smelling. I was, after all, a big fan of Jewish food by then, having worked in a very Jewish area for a year and a half in the 90s.
Pipelchuma is a Garlic Lover’s Paradise!
I remember one particular lunchtime, I’d gone to the gym, and got back to the office with about 5 minutes to spare, with something shop bought. I walked into a room filled with the most tantalising garlicky aroma, much to the consternation of some of our colleagues, who insisted on opening all the windows in the middle of January!
Now, being a lover of all things garlic, I just had to know what it was, and, more importantly, how to make it! Not only did I learn the recipe (and others), but I learnt all about the Libyan Jews.
I love history, in whatever form. If you’ve been following me a while, you’ll know that, as evidenced by some of my more detailed articles like the following:
So weeks after my discovery of filfel chuma (as Moise called it), I read up as much as I could on the history of Libyan Jews. But more of that in my next post.
How to use Pilpelchuma
- as a table condiment, it totally jazzes up an ordinary meal, whatever the cuisine
- use it as a cooking ingredient – add it to soups and stews, think Shakshuka
- it’s fantastic as a marinade – before roasting, barbecuing, frying, it’s great with all meat, seafood, tofu and vegetables
- as a sandwich spread or burger sauce
- stir it through couscous, rice and any other grains
- great as a topping for canapés and flatbreads like Man’oushe or Focaccia
- it makes a super dip
- great stirred into mayo
How hot should Pilpelchuma be?
Traditionally, this is a spicy paste. How spicy you make yours is completely up to you, and can be determined by the type and amount of chillies you use.
Dried red chillies
I’m using sichuan chillies, which are medium-hot to me, and have a lovely fruity, citrusy flavour.
Dried jalapeños, called chipotle, will be perfectly mild, if you don’t do spicy.
Aleppo Pepper Flakes
Aleppo pepper is a mild, dried chilli that is very popular in the Middle East. It’s named after the city in Syria, and the flakes are a deep red, almost burgundy colour, with a fruity, raisin-y flavour.
If you can’t get aleppo pepper flakes, non smoky, mild paprika or a mild chilli powder will work just as well. Or hot, that’s completely up to you.
To my American readers: when I say chilli powder, I’m talking about pure chilli pepper powder, not a mix of chilli pepper and other stuff.
Other Filfel Chuma Ingredients
I’m using half a tablespoon of caraway and cumin seeds each, as I don’t want their presence to be too strong. Once you’ve made this recipe, feel free to experiment with a little more of both or either.
Moise also mentioned his mum using the following sometimes:
- preserved lemons – chop both the skin and pulp this along with all the ingredients
- clear or white wine vinegar, instead of or along with, the lemon juice
- fresh green chillies – also chopped with the other ingredients
- a small amount of parsley – probably an Italian influence, but more of that in the next post
Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, shall we get our aprons on?
Oh, one last thing. Below is another very detailed post, full of history that you may be interested in. I also play food detective in this post, and along with a couple of readers, try to make an educated guess on the origin of the curry.
an Indian Jewish Curry
More Chilli Paste Recipes on LinsFood
Pilpelchuma (filfel chuma) recipe, a red chilli paste from the Libyan Jews of Tripoli. Spicy, garlicky and tangy, it can be used a condiment and ingredient.
- 15 non smoky dried red chillies (any sort, heat level is up to you)
- 1/2 Tbsp whole caraway seeds
- 1/2 Tbsp whole cumin seeds
- 15 medium-sized garlic cloves
- 1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper flakes (or chilli powder or paprika, non smoky)
- 80ml (1/3 cup) light olive oil, not extra virgin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp white sugar
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- plus more olive oil (any kind) for covering before storage
You will also need a spice or coffee mill, as well as a chopper to blitz everything.
You could, if you like, use ground cumin and ground caraway, just dry toast the powders for a minute only as per the instructions below.
Soaking the dried chillies
- With a pair of scissors, snip the dried chillies into 2-3 pieces, into a bowl.
- Top the chillies with boiling water, cover with a plate, and leave to soak for 15 minutes.
Preparing the Cumin and Caraway seeds
- Place both seeds in a small frying pan on medium-low heat and dry fry for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat as soon as you get a toasty aroma from it, as you don’t want them to burn.
- Tip the seeds into a coffee or spice mill and leave to cool for 2 minutes.
- Then grind the spices to a fine powder.
- Drain and rinse the soaked chillies, losing all the seeds at the bottom of the bowl. Add to your chopper.
- Tip the garlic and half the olive oil in and process for about a minute.
- Now add everything else in and process to a fairly fine paste. Don’t worry too much about the odd stubborn chilli bit.
- Tip the pilpelchuma into a sterilised jar, seal with a thin layer of olive oil and store in the fridge. It will last for 2 weeks easily. Keep topping it with a layer of oil each time you take some out, and it will last for 3-4 weeks. The oil is there to prevent bacteria from settling and your paste from getting mouldy.
- Category: Sauces
- Method: Easy
- Cuisine: Libyan Jewish
Keywords: chilli, jewish, sauces