Thursday, June 3, 2010

Muhammara - Magical Dip of the Middle East

If you've ever dined at a Middle Eastern restaurant and eaten Muhammara you know what all the fuss is about with this wonderful dip. If not, hold on for the ride, because it's a fun one!

Muhammara - roasted red peppers, walnuts, olive oil and pomegranate molasses - is a lesser known cousin to hummus, baba ghanoush, and foule, middle eastern dishes that are usually part of a Mezze (little tasting) plate served as an appetizer. The surprising taste of muhammara is the pomegranate molasses which is a sweet and tart syrup made by reducing pomegranate juice. It imparts a depth of flavor to this dip that is almost uncanny. Combined with the hot spiciness of either paprika, cayenne (or the traditional Aleppo pepper if you can find it) and the sweetness of roasted red bell peppers this dip makes your senses sing!
I prepared this version of the dish from memory since my computer had died (!) and I didn't have a cookbook on hand to look up a recipe. Luckily, I was pretty close, only leaving out the breadcrumbs. I thought the muhammara was just as good without them, so I've made it optional in the recipe below for all of you avoiding gluten.

Whether you serve up muhammara as a solo act or include it in a more festive spread of middle eastern dishes, it will be a shining star at the table. The walnuts give it a creamy consistency that will fool people into believing the dip contains dairy, but it is the spicy sweet taste that will bring them back for more.

You can make this dip with store bought peppers, but home roasted peppers make the dip really sparkle. Obviously you can adjust the heat but I would recommend going with the full amount knowing that the sweetness will temper the spice.


2 red bell peppers
1 cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground in mortar and pestle
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
2 tablespoons bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 and place red peppers on foil lined tray and roast for 35-45 minutes until skins are blackened and peppers have caved in on themselves. Remove from oven and either wrap foil around peppers to enclose or place in brown paper bag and allow peppers to steam for 5-10 minutes. Over a bowl, remove skins and seeds and insides of peppers and use only peeled flesh. Combine peppers with remaining ingredients in bowl of food processor and pulse to combine, pausing to scrape down sides. Refrigerate to allow flavors to marry. Serve with pita wedges or crackers.

*You can purchase pomegranate molasses at middle eastern grocery stores. Or make it yourself as you need it by heating pomegranate juice and reducing it by half to get the syrup, which is what I did. For this recipe bring 1/2 cup fresh pomegranate juice (not from concentrate), 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to boil and reduce on medium heat by half to about a 1/4 of a cup. Allow to cool before adding to the other ingredients.


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