Pilpelchuma, a Libyan Jewish Red Chilli Paste Recipe and Video

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.
Filfel Chuma (Pilpelchuma), red chilli paste in small white bowl
Pilpelchuma (filfel chuma) recipe, a red chilli paste in small white bowl
Pilpelchuma (filfel chuma) a Libyan Jewish Chilli Paste

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

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. :

Libyan Jews

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 a related post soon, 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 (Pilpelchuma), red chilli paste in small white bowl
Pilpelchuma, make it as spicy or as mild as you like it

Pilpelchuma Recipe

Filfel Chuma, in its most basic form, is made with dried red chillies (or chilli powder/paprika), garlic and lemon juice. It’s 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 that day, 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 (too?) 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 long will Pilpelchuma Keep?

It will keep in the fridge, covered with a layer of oil, for 2 weeks.

You can also give it a water bath to extend its shelf life. Double the amount of lemon juice to increase its acidity. Then give it a water bath to extend its shelf life to 6 months.

You can also freeze it for up to 2 months.

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?

If you like the recipe and article, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you!

And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor, and hashtag it #linsfood

Lin xx

More Chilli Paste Recipes on LinsFood

Filfel Chuma (Pilpelchuma), red chilli paste in small white bowl

Pilpelchuma (Filfel Chuma), a Libyan Jewish Red Chilli Paste from Tripoli

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.
4.92 from 25 votes
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Course: Sauces
Cuisine: Libyan Jewish
Keyword: chilli paste, hot sauce, jewish
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Servings: 8 (makes about 150ml (1/3 cup/170g)
Calories: 91kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor

Ingredients

  • 15 non smoky dried red chillies any sort, heat level is up to you
  • ½ Tbsp whole caraway seeds
  • ½ Tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 15 medium-sized garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper flakes or chilli powder or paprika, non smoky
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) light olive oil, not extra virgin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ 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.

Instructions

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.

Making Pilpelchuma

  • 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 2 weeks. The oil is there to prevent bacteria from settling and your paste from getting mouldy.

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 91kcal | Carbohydrates: 4.1g | Protein: 0.8g | Fat: 8.5g | Sodium: 148.7mg | Fiber: 0.9g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 33.7IU
Did you make this recipe?Mention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!
Made it? Upload your photosMention @azlinbloor and tag #linsfood!

14 thoughts on “Pilpelchuma, a Libyan Jewish Red Chilli Paste Recipe and Video”

    1. Hi Faye, I get rid of all the seeds that have sunk to the bottom of the bowl during soaking (it’s mentioned in the recipe). Any that are still sticking to the peppers, I don’t bother getting rid of, you can just about see them in the paste pictures.

  1. Javier Reyes

    5 stars
    This is a great recipe. I love everything hot and I can’t wait to try this. Maybe added to the Spanish tortilla, what do you think Azlin?

  2. Connor Phillips

    5 stars
    Really delicious, thank you. Do you think it will go well with potatoes? Roast or salad maybe?

    1. Absolutely Connor, it’ll go with both of those. I’m planning to do a recipe for potato salad and roast potatoes with pilpelchuma. Look out for them!

  3. Anthea Wilson

    5 stars
    Really nice, made it yesterday and really enjoying it. I have never used caraway seeds before, so that a good addition to my spice cupboard.

    1. I’m really pleased to hear that. Caraway seeds are funny little things. They smell of aniseed, but once cooked, they have a touch of smokiness about them.

  4. Gabby Johnson

    5 stars
    I really, really enjoyed reading about this chili paste! I can’t wait to try this too, and looking forward to the fish recipe. Thanks Azlin.

  5. Matt Philips

    5 stars
    Just saw this on instagram and you are right, I need it in my life! I’ve made a couple of your chili pepper recipes befor and really love them. Pencilled this in for the weekend. Thanks Lin!

  6. I love the colour of this spicy paste! I need to make it! I don’t know how I missed it in Ottolenghi’s book, but I don’t need that now since I have your recipe. 🙂

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