An Evening With Muhammara

Ready to graduate from hummus and baba ghanouj? I'm hardly suggesting you give up these Middle Eastern meze treats anytime soon, but if you're ready to expand your horizons, hang onto your hat and hop aboard the magic carpet.

Muhammara: A great use for roasted red peppers. (Kim O'Donnel)

Feast your eyes on muhammara (Moo-HAHM-mer-ah, she says kind of confidently but hoping an Arabic speaker will chime in), a roasted red pepper puree seasoned with walnuts, pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper, a deep red moderately spicy chile from Aleppo, Syria, an ancient city in the northwestern corner of the country. The story is that the Aleppo is the birthplace of muhammara, but it's my understanding you'll find muhammara in southern Turkey as well.

Unlike hummus, this is not a seven-minute dish, but muhammara rewards you with a multiplex of flavor - a little sweet, a little savory, a little spicy - plus a deep rich color that pretties up a party tray. The extra work (and prep time) in question is the hour required to roast a few peppers, time well spent rather than opening a jar of peppers from the store, in my opinion.

In the spirit of expedience, I must confess I made this batch of muhammara without the famed Aleppo pepper (available via, improvising with a mix of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. Aleppo is deep mahogany in color, with a deep smoky quality that some compare to ancho chiles with a little cumin mixed in. You might see it sold as halaby pepper or kirmizi biber.

Whatever pepper you decide upon, I think you'll love this stuff. Its smooth texture gives the impression it must be loaded with dairy fat, when there's nary a drop of butter or animal fat whatsoever. It's those walnuts doing all the talking -- and they're loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids!

This magic carpet ride is over, but I urge you to hop aboard next time you're hosting a little cocktail shindig and want to do something a little different with little extra effort.

P.S. The resulting texture is hummus-like, so you can most certainly slab it on bread as a sandwich spread. I thinking it'd be lovely with a little feta and lettuce!

Below, the recipe details, with KOD notes in parentheses.

Today is chat day and a little earlier than usual so that I can make a train to New York. What's Cooking, today at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Adapted from "Little Foods of the Mediterranean" by Clifford A. Wright

½ cup walnuts, toasted (for chunkier results, you could try ¾ cup)
2 1/2 tablespoons (7 ½ teaspoons) tomato paste
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (from about 1 thick slice French or Italian bread, crust removed)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (I think 1 tablespoon is sufficient)
1 teaspoon ground red Aleppo pepper (alternatively, 3 parts sweet paprika, 1 part cayenne)
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into strips, and set in a colander to drain for 15 minutes (I like to roast mine in a 400-degree oven, until blistered, for about 40 minutes.)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (alternatively, grind cumin seeds)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste (I used about ½ teaspoon)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process into a paste, stopping the blender and scraping it down when necessary.

Refrigerate, but serve at room temperature. It will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about two cups.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 24, 2008; 9:38 AM ET Discoveries , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Ohmygosh, Kim, this looks amazing. Now I know what tonight's cooking project will be!

Posted by: Julia | June 24, 2008 10:47 AM

Pomegranate molasses - where to find this? Really, I live in the smack middle of nowhere... is there a more domestic substitute?

Kim, this looks delish. I have a recipe for a toned-down version of a red pepper dip and it's fabulous on turkey sandwiches, or alone on a tortilla chip. I will definitely try this, provided I can find the ingredients

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | June 24, 2008 10:47 AM

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 24, 2008 11:10 AM

to use my future crop of peppers! Thanks!

Posted by: what a nice way | June 24, 2008 11:50 AM

Is that sea salt/kosher salt on top of the dip in the photo? YUM!

Posted by: PS: | June 24, 2008 11:57 AM

Awesome, Kim! Thanks!
(I'd never think to check, of all places!)

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | June 24, 2008 12:08 PM

Hello Kim

Just read today's chat (not quite 8 o'clock here in Hawaii).

As I think I've told you in the past, I spent a fair amount of time in India in the 70s & 80s. There I learnt that the most effective way of taming chilli heat is to follow the curry with something dairy. Most meals there include raita (yoghourt & spices). Tzatziki (yoghourt, cucumber, dill or mint) would have the same effect. Ice cream works well, too. Beer only inflames the palate even more.

Posted by: David Lewiston | June 24, 2008 1:58 PM

Pomegranate molasses can be found at Yekta in Rockville, a Persian grocery market right off the Pike. Try it as a barbecue sauce for ribs or a marinade for strawberries that aren't so perfect-looking.

Posted by: April Fulton | June 24, 2008 3:54 PM

This looks great! I pick up red peppers whenever they are discounted (Magruder's is a great source for these), slice off the tops and bottoms (save these for stir fry), and roast the rest.

I'm disinclined to pick up pomengranate molasses. I'm sure it's great stuff, but I've got too many things that get used once in a blue moon. I wonder if one could use reduced pomengranate or blueberry juice as a substitute.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | June 24, 2008 7:24 PM

For people worried about using up the pomegranate molasses, I've used it to great success in a delicious vinagrette recipe from Nigella Lawson. Always gets raves!

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 25, 2008 11:35 AM

Make sure to reduce the pomegranate juice with sugar. Several sites have recipes for pom molasses that are basically super-reduced grenadine (pom, sugar + a little lemon, simmered for over an hour), but when I tried it it didn't have the same complexity as the syrup I bought.

I will put in a plug for pomegranate molasses, though--I first got it for some recipe, same concerns about loading up my kitchen, and I've ended up using it regularly. I've put a little in lentil dishes, dishes revolving around powerful greens, chicken or pork, and chunky pasta sauces (that aren't tomato-based). A little goes a long way, but it can add a really great additional nuance, a little sour-sweet note with more flavor than lemon juice. And, of course, it goes wonderfully with walnuts, as here.

Posted by: Suzgrad | June 25, 2008 11:56 AM

Hmmm... I do remember a fig vinegar I picked up on a whim awhile ago that was used up all too quickly. It might be an interesting substitute for sugar in my marinara sauce as well. I'll take a look for it the next time at one of the big Asian supermarkets or perhaps whip up a batch. It does look fairly easy.

What I was seeing online was to reduce 4 cups of pomengranate juice, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (with the sugar/lemon ratio being flexible to taste).



Posted by: Fairlington Blade | June 25, 2008 1:41 PM

I had muhammara at a seafood restaurant in Istanbul (some little neighborhood full of fish markets - everything was ordered by pointing). It was the only non-meat dish they had, and my fish-eating husband ate so much I had to order a second dish. I have made a few attempts to duplicate it without success, so am thrilled to find your recipe.

Posted by: kbockl | June 25, 2008 2:46 PM

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