Roasted Red Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

During one of my semi-annual trips to visit my old Russian professor in the Boston area, George and I got to experience the red pepper dip known as muhammara for the first time.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee.

Amazing.  It was deeply flavored and fruity and sweet and spicy and roasty and redolent of garlic and rich, toasted walnuts.  All that in one dish?  Yeah!  I knew after trying it that my mission (which I chose to accept) was to learn how to make it myself, since my local supermarket sure isn’t carrying pre-packaged muhammara.  Happily, they carry all components.  After years of tasting and experimentation (a rough job, I know), I can finally say neener neener, made it myself, and celebrate one more weirdo recipe in the repertoire.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 fresh roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, plus the liquor they exude after roasting
  • 2/3 cup (ish) plain bread crumbs (or maybe not as much, or maybe more; it depends on what you need to achieve the right texture)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 or 3 or 4 garlic cloves, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (check the ubiquitously dubbed “international” section of your grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or none, or more, purely to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste (if you use pre-roasted peppers, be sure to go easy on the salt since they will be saltier than if you roast them yourself)
  • olive oil for garnish

The first thing to do is roast the peppers.  (If you are pressed for time you surely may use jarred or frozen roasted peppers.  Just drain or defrost them and make sure they’re peeled and seeded.)  There are two different camps surrounding roasted peppers; you can char them at high heat just so the skins blister off, but the flesh of the peppers really won’t cook.  Or, you could roast them at a lower heat so the peppers cook thoroughly.  It depends on what you want to achieve.  I chose to roast the peppers at a lower, slower heat (400°, 20 minutes, turn once, back in the oven for 20 more minutes) since I wanted them to be softer and more amenable to become a dip, and not as dependent on a fatty olive oil added at the end to provide a soft texture.  Plus, I love the liquid they exude.

Mmmm, peppery goodness.

Mmmm, silky pepper goodness.

See that golden liquor oozing out among the roasted peppers?  That’s pure concentrated pepper sweetness, and it would be a crime to not include that in your dish; it is TOO GOOD.  Once the peppers are roasted and cooled  (in a heat-proof bowl that’s covered with plastic wrap, so the skins will steam apart from the flesh, making your job that much easier), peel them, pull out the stems and seeds, put the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor and strain that pepper liquor into your food processor as well.  You won’t regret it.  If you use jarred or frozen peppers, you won’t have this, and you’ll need to resist the temptation to use the liquid from the jar.  It’s probably going to be too salty and/or vinegary to be of much use; you can throw in a splash of cranberry juice or broth or water if you want to get a little extra liquid rolling around in your dip.

While the peppers are roasting, measure out your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (meaning, one with no oil in it) and let it start warming over a medium heat.  Don’t wander too far away since it won’t take long for the walnuts to start to brown and once they’re brown they’re ready to burn.  Don’t let that happen.  Also, you need at least 1/3 cup, but make 1/2.  You may need more than the third, depending on how soft (or not) the dip is when you first blend it, and walnuts will help add structure.  Besides, the temptation to snack on fresh-roasted walnuts is great, and you wouldn’t want to short the muhammara.  I speak from experience here.

And so.  Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor; remember to start with 1/3 cup each of bread crumbs and walnuts, and then taste test your muhammara so you may appropriately tinker.

Give it a whirl!

Give it a whirl!

Blend, scrape down the food processor bowl, taste.  Repeat.  Bread crumbs and walnuts will provide structure so if your dip is too runny, add in a little bit more of one or the other (or both!) at a time.  You’ll want it to be firm yet scoopable, like a really thick hummus.  Scoop it into a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil for a garnish and serve with bread or crackers or pita wedges.

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

Trust me, once you try this you’ll want it again.  And again.  And again.  Bonus: it’s easy!  Enjoy.  xoxo

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