Muhammara (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) is a complex Syrian dip that marries roasted red peppers with walnuts. The richness of the nuts and roasted peppers is contrasted by the acidity of concentrated pomegranate juice. The flavor combination is surprising, but addictive.
I have always used Paula Wolfert’s recipe from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean as a starting point, but have altered it in recent years. In contrast to Paula, I toast my walnuts in the oven, and use whole wheat breadcrumbs instead of cracker crumbs. These little changes add a bit more depth to the spread.
Ideally, one should use pomegranate molasses, a sticky and sour concentration of pomegranate juice. Get familiar with your local Arab grocery. You will likely find it there in a slender bottle. Sometimes it is labeled as “pomegranate concentrated juice,” like the bottle currently in my pantry. If you don’t have an Arab grocery in your area, you can substitute regular pomegranate juice or lemon juice.
4 red bell peppers
1-2 small hot chilis
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Roast the red bell peppers and little chilis over a gas burner or under the oven broiler, turning frequently until blackened and blistered, about 12 minutes. Place in a covered bowl or paper bag to steam 10 minutes. This will loosen the skin. Rub off the skins and slit the peppers to remove the membranes and seeds. Spread on a paper towel 10 minutes to drain.
Meanwhile toast the walnuts in the oven until brown and fragrant.
In a food processor, combine all ingredients, with the bell peppers and walnuts last in order. You can make your paste smooth like hoummus, or chunky with the walnuts rough like gravel. Adjust the salt and lemon juice to taste.
Paula Wolfert suggests making Muhammara a day in advance to allow the flavors to marry. This is ideal, but if you are pressed for time, it is also fantastic warm and fresh. Serve Muhammara with belgian endive, flatbread such as pita or lavosh, or crackers. Leftovers work as a sandwich spread.