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What is Shifka? – Eats, Jewlish

The origins of one of Israel’s most unique foods.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. But what pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?

Throughout the Mediterranean, you can find peppers in nearly every dish. From sweet and crisp bell peppers to spicy jalapeno and serrano peppers they are undoubtedly popular. Pickled peppers though, those salty and sometimes spicy treats are often used as a garnish on a Greek salad or to add crunch and tang to a sandwich. In Greece and Italy the pepperoncini pepper is the star pickled pepper, but in Israel, one pickled pepper rises above the rest.

Not the spicy jalapeño, the sweet shishito or even the smoky Poblano. Rather it’s the pickled light green Shifka pepper, which can be found in nearly every falafel and shawarma stand countrywide.

At most falafel stands Shifka peppers are served as whole pickled peppers alongside green olives and regular pickles. Spicy spreads such as Harissa (a North African red pepper sauce) and/or Schug (a Yemenite chili sauce) are used to bring the heat. While these crunchy peppers are often discarded, either out of fear or unfamiliarity with the pepper. But Shifka has a very different set of flavors. More tart than spicy and more umami than most other peppers.

The Shifka pepper is fruity and crisp with a mouthwatering spicy kick and gets its sourness from the pickling process. It’s the perfect bite if you’re not afraid to sweat a little. And when blended up into a sauce it is a powerful condiment that could change up your next meal.

It might surprise you to learn how the Shifka pepper came to be so popular in Israel. The Shifka pepper is a heirloom variety of pepper that originated in Bulgaria. Some believe the term Shifka was coined after a small town in central Bulgaria while other experts trace it back to a Bulgarian term for rose hips.

To most of the world “Shifka” is known as the Bulgarian carrot pepper because of its place of origin and its remarkable resemblance to a carrot.

Due to them only growing in a few select areas. In order for them to be eaten anywhere else, the peppers needed to be smuggled outside the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. The Iron Curtain was a physical and ideological barrier between the Soviet Union and its communist allies, and non communist areas and Western influences.

It’s not entirely known how the seeds of the pepper plant were smuggled across the border, but after its escape, the pepper was spread across Europe, the Caribbean, and later introduced to the United States.

To be honest, I never cared much for the shifka peppers that came with the olives and pickles on the side of my falafel, but that all changed when I tasted a yellow sauce served alongside a hummus bowl at Bardian Hummuseria in Ashkelon, Israel.

I always loved harissa and schug, but this yellow sauce was something special. I immediately asked to buy some to take home and found out it was called Shifka sauce. I thought my only chance of seeing this sauce again would be to go back to the restaurant but luckily for me I started to find jars of Shifka at most super markets and even a rotisserie chicken place offering Shifka aioli as a dip. It quickly became one of my favorite condiments and I’ve been using it ever since.

If you’re the kind of person who’s got a “spicy” tooth and is always looking to add more hot sauce to whatever they’re eating. Shifka has the perfect amount of spice and flavor to add to your dishes.

Shifka wins top marks in the categories of acidity, spice and tang and when turned into a sauce can be as versatile as Tabasco or any of your other favorite condiments. I use shifka sauce on everything from hummus bowls to burgers as a condiment, but it can be used in cooking too. Simply mix with some mayo and spread on fish or use as a marinade for chicken. The simple ingredient adds tons of flavor to whatever you’re eating.

If you can’t find shifka sauce in your local supermarket you can make your own, get our recipe for Shifka sauce and if you can’t find the pickled shifka peppers feel free to use pepperoncini.

There are many other popular pickled peppers such as pepperoncini, jalapeño and Serrano peppers. They all have similar flavor profiles but each one with a slightly different texture and bite. But none are exactly like the Shifka.

The pickled Shifka pepper is absolutely a new Israeli food you have to try.

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