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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Recipe: Muhammara

 Unfortunately, I took this photo at night with a flash, which faded the deep red color

Muhammara:  A Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip
by Victoria Challancin

When 2 close friends in two separate incidents say that all they want for Christmas from me is a container of this luscious dip, you know you have a winner of a recipe.  I first enjoyed muhammara, a roasted red pepper and walnut dip laced with pomegranate molasses (see an earlier post here), when I moved to Abu Dhabi in the mid-seventies.  The name, which derives from the Arabic for "red," is magical to me, conjuring up exotic ingredients, mysterious concoctions, subtle tastes--and beautiful color as well.  The complex undertones which the pomegranate molasses imparts, plus the smokiness of the roasted peppers, overlaid with the crunch of toasted walnuts and heated up with the kick from chiles makes a memorable dish indeed.  Though I don't have access to the exact same chiles here in Mexico, the result is still great.  This dish, which hails from Turkey and Syria, is always a welcome addition to a party table.

I've made this dish so often that I really don't use a recipe.  This, however, is an approximation of how I make it.  Once you make it, adjust the seasoning after it has rested for a bit. You may prefer more lemon juice, more chile, more pomegranate molasses--let your instincts guide you to create something that works for you.  In the Middle and Near East, muhammara can be quite spicy!

(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

4 red bell peppers, fire-roasted, peeled, and seeded
1 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
2 red serrano chiles, roasted (by all means use Aleppo and Urfa chiles if you have them)
1 tablespoon paprika
2 good pinches of cayenne chile
Sea salt to taste 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
3 large garlic cloves, peeled (or to taste)
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil or as needed
Pomegranate arils and toasted walnuts or pine nuts for garnish (optional)

Place the roasted peppers, walnuts, chiles, paprika, cayenne, salt, cumin, and bread crumbs in a food processor.  Pulse until smooth, but do not over blend.  You want this to have some texture.  Slowly add the lemon juice (start with one tablespoon and add more if needed), pomegranate molasses, and olive oil, blending carefully.  Allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes, then check your seasoning.  You don't want any one element to dominate. Rather you want a subtle blending of the complexity of the peppers and nuts, the sharpness of the lemon juice, the heat of the chiles, and the sweet-tart richness of the pomegranate molasses.

Serve at room temperature with pita chips.  Garnish with nuts and pomegranate arils if desired.


©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

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