The Dip on Muhammara
Muhammara is a roasted red pepper dish commonly found in many Middle Eastern countries. The first time I tried I ever had it was at a Lebanese restaurant and was quite surprised at it's unique flavor and sweet profile. Currently, it is red pepper season which means that they've been in my weekly produce box I pick up from my local farm to table restaurant. Not gonna lie, I've gotten a bit tired of eating red peppers (and all the other peppers), until I remembered muhammara.
The dip is spicy, sweet, and surprising. It is very easy to make and the method/ingredients are quite forgiving I find. Traditionally, pomegranate molasses is added to bring out the pepper's sweetness, adding another layer of complex flavor. In my version, I do not use pomegranate molasses because I didn't have any and I also did not want to create a sweet dip since I prefer savory. Additionally, this dish can be made gluten free by omitting the bread crumbs, but I decided to go for the gluten. A few days before I made the dish, I happened to pick up pick up a sesa-miche loaf from my local bakery and decided to use the stale bits as a sub for the breadcrumbs. Because the sesa-miche is covered with sesame seeds, it was a perfect addition to the tahini (ground sesame paste) which is added to the muhammara.
Muhammara can be served with flatbread, pita chips, eggs, etc., honestly whatever you like. That may not be a traditional way to serve it, but this isn't about tradition, it's about re-invention, reinterpretation, which can be more fun! Ingenuity is another aspect I encountered when I tried this recipe. Usually, the red peppers are roasted outside over an open fire or at least broiled in your oven. Due time, I decided to use the open flame on my gas stovetop to char the peppers and hey, it worked (be sure to always turn your hood fan on though).
On a cauliflower sandwich thin I generously spread the muhammara, topped it with some slices of avocado, added some fennel (contrasts the natural red pepper sweetness of the dip very nicely), some ricotta salata (can sub with feta), and a fresh squeeze of lemon juice.
Photo by Mayreni Sweis
4 medium sized red peppers
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 cup tahini
1 tbls water
1 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1/2 or 1 tbls cayenne pepper (add as little or as much as you'd like- depends on your level of spicy-ness preference) OR 2 tbls of Aleppo pepper
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp paprika
1 generous tablespoon of tahini (not found in the traditional recipe, but I love adding tahini)
Fresh mint (for serving)
*If using pomegranate molasses add 2 tbls and drizzle some more when serving.
Over an open flame, char red peppers on all sides, rotating frequently. Timing depends on how big the pepper is. Approximately 5-10 min/ pepper and to save time, utilize all 4 of your burners. OR on a lined baking sheet broil peppers for 5 minutes. Broiling time will vary depending on your oven, so keep an eye on it.
Once peppers are done, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10 min. This will help them to get more soft and allow the skin to wrinkle, so that it'll be easier to remove.
After 10 min, remove as much of the skin (at least the charred bits) and the seeds.
Over medium heat, toast 1/3 cup of walnuts in a pan, tossing frequently so that they do not burn. You'll know they're done when they have turned more golden and are just becoming fragrant. Immediately place in a separate bowl where they will continue to cook because of the internal heat (which is why you don't want to completely toast them to desired point because they'll finish toasting on their own thanks to the residual heat). OR toast walnuts at 250 degrees fahrenheit for 8-12 minutes.
If using stale bread (like me), tear bread to small pieces.
In a food processor or blender add the bread crumbs, peppers, toasted walnuts, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, salt, cayenne pepper. Pulse. Then blend on medium for 45 sec.
Add in tiny bit of water, continue to blend for another 45 sec until creamy-chunky texture, (wanna taste the occasional crunch of a walnut).
Serve warm or chilled with fresh mint. Enjoy!