Tarkan Kardaslar Explains Marash Peppers, Urfa Chiles, and The Art of Mixing Spices
Growing up on a farm on the coast of the Black Sea meant a childhood filled with wildflowers and the lush hillside greenery that surrounded Tarkan Kardaslar’s home in Turkey. “Nature is this living, breathing energy and you feel alive when you’re around it,” Kardaslar wrote to me. When the would-be spice artisan moved to the U.S. in 2002, he began working for a floral design company in Atlanta called Gloriosa. There he was mentored by the owner Keith Robinson, who encouraged his creativity with plants and flowers.
During his last year living in Atlanta, in 2012, Kardaslar met a fellow creative who was mixing her own blends of flavored salts for cooking. “My wife and I called her Suzi Salt,” Kardaslar says. “She planted the seed, in my head, that I could do something similar with my spices.”
In 2014 Kardaslar launched Spice & Tulips in Tustin, California, sourcing Marash peppers grown in the city of Kahramanmaraş, in southeastern Turkey, where the chiles are sun-dried, de-stemmed, seeded, and ground while they still retain their natural moisture. “Crushed Marash chili flakes have medium heat with a subtle sweetness— they’re very pleasant— and are a beautiful reddish-orange,” he explains. Traditionally, the flakes are mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt before seasoning chicken, lamb, or vegetable dishes.
Another popular spice that Kardaslar began sourcing from southeast Turkey is called Urfa, which gets its name from the city of Şanlıurfa. The most traditional way to prepare Urfa chiles for crushing is to dry them in the sun for three days and wrap them tightly in a thin cloth each night. This process, quite appropriately, is called “sweating”. “The resulting color is an earthy dark purple, almost black, and customers have commented that the smell reminds them of raisins, coffee, or tobacco. Its medium heat gives it interesting character that almost comes in as a second wave of flavor,” Kardaslar muses.
Cooking with spices is Kardaslar’s great joy, thanks in part to his mother, who he notes is an amazing cook. After moving stateside, the enchantment of his dinner guests was just the icing on the cake to Kardaslar’s deeply-imbedded love, but sourcing the right spices in the U.S. was no easy feat. “In Turkey, you go to the spice market and smell them, taste them, and buy them in various quantities. You don’t usually go to a grocery store and buy a closed bottle that comes in one or two sizes,” he explained. Because this sensory bond was important to him, he found himself seeking out spices each time he returned to Turkey– initially for himself, and soon thereafter for his customers.
“The most traditional way to prepare Urfa chiles for crushing is to dry them in the sun for three days and wrap them tightly in a thin cloth each night. This process, quite appropriately, is called ‘sweating’.”
“Family and friends loved the stuff I was preparing. The vegetables were familiar to them— carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes— but the taste was more flavorful than they were used to. And it was funny to me, because it was so normal for these vegetables to taste this way. Every vegetable and every meat has its own natural flavor. Our spices can enhance that natural flavor, or bring out something new depending upon what the occasion calls for,” he confided poetically.
The appropriate next step for Kardaslar was to create original spice blends. Turkish oregano and garlic balanced with the sweet heat of medium Turkish chiles was deemed Grand Bazaar— an everyday blend that is delicious on tacos and encourages a savory-sweet palette. He’s also concocted a Black Sea Balik blend for seafood (try this on white fish), an Istanbul Izgara blend for the grill, and a Rumeli Mezze blend for vegetables and appetizers. Spice & Tulips offers these and much more at their brick-and-mortar storefront, as well as online— all of their spices are gluten free, all-natural, vegan, non-GMO, and free of MSG’s. Today, Kardaslar symbolically sells Beautiful Briny Sea salts by none other than “Suzi Salt”. (Try her Magic Unicorn blend— pure ocean salt, smoked paprika, rosemary, and garlic— with sliced green apples, eggs, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or cucumber.)
As Kardaslar honed his craft in the precise blending of spices, he also made time for floral and table design. “This would complete the lifestyle movement,” he reasoned. “To be able to walk into a store and put together all of the elements that make the meal come to life— that’s been my vision.” With handmade ceramic bowls, handwoven textiles, plants hanging from bookshelves, and the evil eye (otherwise known as “nazar boncuk”) dispersed throughout, arriving at Spice & Tulips is much like discovering hidden treasure in the California landscape– a romantic vision of “Farm-to-Spice Cabinet” and the beautiful stories that come with it.