Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Back when I was writing for Wellfed.net I reviewed a recipe for Muhammara from Ana Sortun's Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, a wonderful book by the owner of Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I had been jonesing for another taste of this roasted red pepper and walnut spread ever since the Middle Eastern restaurant owner down the street from the knitting shop suddenly closed his doors and moved back home. So I was thrilled to find the recipe and whipped up a batch.

Which was ok, but not really like the smooth creamy spread I was used to. It was thick and and lumpy, and a little gummy. I figured that was due to two things: 1) there was too high a proportion of bread crumbs to the rest of the ingredients and 2) I didn't process it long enough.

Back when I was roasting all those peppers, I decided to try it again. This time, I used twice as many peppers and half the amount of bread crumbs. That did the trick. It was smooth and creamy, with just the right taste and texture. It's delicious with pita, crackers or vegetables, and makes a wonderful complement to hummus if you're looking for some new appetizers.

I have not seen pomegranate syrup in any of my neighborhood stores and I haven't ventured further afield in search of it. Instead, I bought some pomegranate juice and reduced it down to slightly less than half. I've since seen a recipe that calls for sugar, but the reduced juice is sweet enough without it. It also makes for a mean vinaigrette.
Muhammara (Red Pepper and Walnut Puree)

3/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp for garnish
4 large red bell peppers (about 2 pounds total), roasted and peeled
4 whole scallions, root ends trimmed and finely chopped (reserve 1 Tbsp for garnish)
1 tsp chopped garlic (about 1 large clove)
1/3 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted, plus 1 Tbsp for garnish
1/4 cup finely ground toasted bread crumbs
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (almost 1/2 lemon)
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp Aleppo chilies plus 1/2 tsp for garnish
1 Tbsp Urfa chilies plus 1/2 tsp for garnish
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp yogurt
3/4 tsp salt plus more to taste

Remove seeds from the red peppers and place them in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the scallions, garlic, walnuts, pine nuts, bread crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, Aleppo and Urfa chilies, cumin, yogurt, and the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Puree the ingredients until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Serve with warm or toasted pita bread, crackers, or vegetables.

Adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun (ReganBooks, 2006)

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