Saturday, August 4, 2012

Muhammara, aka 'Uh, what?' (Updated, with photos)

Muhummad-who? Uh, Muhammara. It's a Middle Eastern pepper dip, or spread, very similar to hummus in consistency, but with some different ingredients and a deep maroon color. Yeah, if you've never heard of it before, don't worry, you're not alone. I've worked with countless cooks and foodie-types over the years, and the only ones I know who know what Muhammara is are the ones I've told about it. And I think that's a damn shame, because it's really tasty and really easy to make. Slightly sweet, tart, spicy and savory all at once, it goes good on flatbread, but is really great as a dip for veggies.

I first read about it on The Perfect Pantry about four years ago, while looking for recipes that called for Aleppo pepper. This was the recipe I came across and it sounded pretty good so I tried it out at work one day. Never having had it before, I didn't really know if it was any good compared to other Muhammara recipes or not. It was decent overall, but it seemed to me like it was lacking something. I had a couple other people try it out and they thought the same thing. So I started looking for other recipes for it, and quickly found out that yes, it was in fact missing something, at least according to most of the other recipes I found- roasted red peppers! I'm not sure which version is the most 'traditional,' but the vast majority of recipes I've come across call for them, so I'd say it's probably a key ingredient, kind of like tahini in hummus. I've tried it both ways and definitely prefer the kind with the roasted reds. The Perfect Pantry has another recipe for it that does include roasted red peppers, but calls for cashews instead of walnuts. I haven't tried that one yet, mostly because I came up with my own version that I think is pretty damn good, so when I make it I always end up using my own recipe. And like hummus, the exact recipe isn't strictly necessary; if you have a basic idea of what's in it and how you want it to taste, you'll be good to go. But here it is anyway:


2 1/2 lbs roasted red bell peppers (fresh, of course)
1 1/2 c toasted, chopped walnuts
1 c bread crumbs
1/4 c light olive oil
6 T cumin, toasted
3 T tomato paste
2 T chopped garlic
2 T pomegranate molasses*
1T lemon juice
1t Aleppo pepper
1/2-1 t kosher/sea salt

Let's start with the roasted reds-


I've found that roasting them over an open flame is best, and easiest. I've tried roasting them under the broiler in the oven, or even just baking them under really high heat, but I've not had much luck with that method. Then again, I don't have a Silpat, which might improve matters. But even if I did have a Silpat, I think I'd still prefer open flame. If you don't have access to a grill (either gas or charcoal, it doesn't really matter), you might try a propane torch. I've used one successfully, but it took a little more finesse than a grill. But still, better (in my opinion) than doing it in the oven. If you've never roasted peppers before, you want them looking kinda sorta like the ones in the photo above. I usually char mine quite a bit more than what you see there, though it's not totally necessary. However, you do need to keep an eye on those bad boys while you're roasting them; make sure the heat isn't too high and to turn them at least every once in awhile. I figured it would be very difficult to over-roast them, but it turns out that's not the case at all, and I had to throw out most of the peppers for this latest batch and go and buy some more. If you know me at all, you won't be surprised to learn that there was alcohol involved. In any case, once they're at the desired char level, toss them into a stainless steel mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the heat and steam them for a bit. Once they're cool enough to handle, you can easily peel the charred skin off from the flesh, discarding it along with the seeds and stems.

It's pretty straightforward and simple from here- everything's going to go into the food processor. No need to slowly drizzle in the oil like you're making mayonnaise or something, but you might want to roughly chop the peppers a bit first so they'll blend a little quicker. Adjust the amount of salt/pepper/lemon to taste. Maybe throw in or garnish with some sumac.

Penzey's, among other places, has Aleppo pepper, but if you don't want to bother with it, plain old crushed red pepper flakes make a good substitute. Once it's all blitzed up in ye olde Cuisinart, it should look something like this:


You can see seeds and bits of charred skin in there- no biggie, you ain't gonna get rid of all that stuff anyway, so I figure if it affects the flavor at all, it's only for the better.

So that's my Muhammara recipe. Which has so far been a pretty good hit with everyone who's tried it.

Give it a shot, and I'd love to hear how it compares with others you've tried.

* If you can't find pomegranate molasses, substitute with 1/4 c of pomegranate juice concentrate, which should be available in the frozen juice section of just about every grocery store everywhere.

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