Muhammara is easily one of my favorite dips of all time. My first experience eating it was a few years ago during a research expedition to Jordan. A was interviewing a lovely Syrian lady who had just fled from her war-torn country. She stopped in the middle of our conversation and led me into her kitchen where she had prepared a generous spread of mezze dishes for us to enjoy. Amongst the variety, a plate that particularly stood out to me was a vibrant dip made of roasted red peppers, nutty walnuts, sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses, chili, and spices. I was amazed at how despite growing up with Levantine cuisine, I never knew about the flavorful mezze native to Syria. Long story short, I simply could not leave without getting her recipe. Today, making muhammara allows me to revisit the memory of that kind woman’s gesture. And it is all the more delicious because of it.
I have, of course, slightly tweaked the recipe to make it my own. Traditional muhammara contains cracked wheat or bulgur, as it is known as in the Levant. Western adaptations will sometimes use breadcrumbs in place of the bulgur. Both options make the dip more filling and provide for a texture that holds together. Another alternative is to use no wheat at all, a lighter yet equally delicious choice that I personally prefer. That being said, I recommend going with the option that fits your mood for the occasion.
INGREDIENTS/ SERVES 4 AS A STARTER
4 red bell peppers, seeds removed, cut into strips
3 shallots or 1/2 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground all-spice
1 teaspoon salt
good grinding black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes or regular chili flakes
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups walnuts, toasted*
1/3 cup ready to eat fine bulgur or fresh wholewheat bread crumbs, optional
1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F and place the red pepper onto a roasting tray. Roast for about 30 minutes or until blistered and slightly charred. Cool for at least 10 minutes before blitzing in the food processor.
2. Combine the roasted red pepper, shallots or onion, cumin, all-spice, salt, pepper, chili, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, olive oil, and all expect 3 walnuts in the food processor. Blitz until smooth. Then add prepared bulgur or breadcrumbs (if adding,) and blitz until the mixture holds together. Spoon the dip into a bowl, form a small well in the middle, and top with the remaining 3 walnuts and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Additional toppings include pomegranate molasses, chili flakes, pomegranate seeds, and chopped parsley. Enjoy right away or chill in the refrigerator until serving. Serve alongside other mezze dishes and bread for dipping.
*Toast the walnuts in a 180C/350F oven for 10 minutes before using in the recipe.