Roasted red pepper-walnut dip, Muhammara

I honestly had barely heard of let alone made muhammara when I worked as an intern at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco. I had just finished culinary school and the internship was considered a two-way street: I was there to get my booty kicked, say thank you and ask for more. They had me there to get the work done, but also because I came bearing a personal Lebanese culinary treasure trove, which was of some interest.

The restaurant is open-kitchen style, and up front there is also a counter where a select menu of prepared foods of the highest order are sold: a gorgeous chicken soup made in the most exacting manner, a variety of perfectly prepared baked goods and vegetables or meats, and also muhammara, red bell pepper dip. Lots of muhammara. The dip was the super-star of the counter, in fact, made in huge quantities and sold out week after week to adoring eaters.

I was put on muhammara (mu-HUMM-a-da) duty early on and often. The process was as exacting as the soup, and because so much of it was sold, it had to be the same every time. Chef figured I had been making muhammara since I was child at my grandmother’s apron strings. She wanted to know what I thought of it, how it was made at home, that sort of thing. I didn’t have so much to offer in the way of making muhammara as I did in the pronunciation of it. Everyone there called it mooah-MARA, which I sensed was off even though this was far from a household word on Wagon Wheel Lane. I refrained from giving chef et al an Arabic lesson, which was wise of me, and just pronounced it correctly every time in hopes that it might rub off. Probably they thought I was wrong.

Perhaps it was my Arabic that got me into trouble, because the making of the muhammara became the bane of my internship existence. Imagine the largest can of anything you’ve ever seen, then double that, and here was the can of roasted red bell peppers from which I had to remove the skins. It was of course canned peppers of the highest order, given that this was one of the very few items in the restaurant that didn’t start from scratch. But those little suckers had not gone into a bowl and been given their due in steam to ease off the skins. No. The roasted skin of the peppers clung for dear life, and seemed to take a sick pleasure, along with the sous chef, in watching me work like a maniac to get them cleaned in the short window of time I was allotted to complete the task. Yes, I was given the tip to remove the skin under cool running water, and that helped but did not solve the fact that I needed the skin off and it did not agree.

That should have been the most irritating of the muhammara-making tasks, but it was compounded by a large-quantity nut- and bread-crumb-toasting task that ranked up there with the peppers in making my brow sweat. Yes, I did nearly burn the nuts at the get-go, and that caused sous to not trust my ability to toast the nuts properly and caused me to pull them out before they were ready according to her specifications—once it took five tries with her scrutiny before the nuts were deemed properly toasted. It was almost as bad with the breadcrumbs, which take particular attention to prevent burning and require a good stir or two to be sure the crumbs brown evenly all over.

I came to understand the muhammara-making as an exercise in both the break-down and build-up of my kitchen ego, an extension of the process that had just taken place in my culinary school program. I’m glad for that. Yet instead of inciting my desire to move on and conquer the brow-sweat of working the line, it worked an opposite effect, so that I take that much more pleasure now in peeling the skin off of just two red bell peppers, toasting just a cup of nuts and breadcrumbs, and putting together a little bowl of muHUMMada with you, to eat right here at home.

Muhammara
The more you make muhammara the more you will adjust the spices to your own liking. A jar of roasted red bell peppers will work just as well as roasting own. This is delicious as a dip with fresh pita or pita chips, or spooned atop chicken, grilled meats, or fish. Muhammara will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for about a week.

2 red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
1 cup walnuts, toasted
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko, toasted
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the peppers and walnuts in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the olive oil and pulse until smooth. With the processor running, add the olive oil slowly and blend until the oil is completely incorporated. Turn off the processor and scrape down the sides of the processor bowl as you go. Serve the muhammara in a small bowl, chilled or room temperature.

Print this recipe here.

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18 Responses to Roasted red pepper-walnut dip, Muhammara

  1. Louise F says:

    If you can’t find dibs roman in your area, you can make your own. It requires just 3 ingredients. Alton Brown from the Food Network has a recipe/directions for creating either pomegranate syrup or molasses (using the same 3 ingredients and simply altering the cooking time). Here is the link:
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pomegranate-syrup-or-molasses-recipe/index.html

  2. Bill B. says:

    I’ve had this in restaurants but never “home-made.” It really is delicious.

  3. We did not eat muhammara growing up in Beirut; it was a dip from Aleppo actually and only in the last few years did I see it in restaurant menus; of course, it is also done by the Armenians who settled in and around Aleppo. Most recipes in Arabic cookbooks don’t use fresh bell peppers but i prefer it with them!

  4. Soesoe says:

    Actually, moe-hamm-marah is the correct pronunciaton. It’s a dip eaten in South-East Turkey to North-Syria. The Lebanese dialect is different from Syrian dialect.

  5. Bobbi Schmidt says:

    Oh my word! I made this tonight and its DIVINE!! I love your blog! So glad I found it on the Shada Family FB page! Thanks, Maureen!

  6. Fadia House says:

    Hi Maureen,
    I love your story and will be trying your recipe very soon. In fact, I am Lebanese but did not eat much Muhammara while in Lebanon. I will make it now though and let my family taste it.
    Thanks for sharing your lovely recipe.
    Fadia

  7. Hiba says:

    Hello Maureen I tried this last night and it is phenomenal. I added 2 roasted peeled hot red peppers. Best recipe, thanks for sharing! Do you happen to have a recipe for kibbe kaddaba?

  8. Deepa says:

    What lovely photos! “I came to understand the muhammara-making as an exercise in both the break-down and build-up of my kitchen ego” — love the narrative that wound up with that insight. So much of cooking and food-prep as I see it winds up at similar points, so it’s hear of other journeys that way, too.

  9. Lisa Anne M. says:

    I made this for a Thanksgiving appetizer and it was amazing! Thank you so much, it is definitely a new family favorite!

  10. Chrysoulla says:

    Hello Maureen… I just came across your blog for the first time tonight and was happy to see the recipe for Muhammara. Ironically, a friend came back from a vacation in Greece (Salonika) on October and brought back a sampling of ATZIKA, which is the Pontian version of Muhammara… it tasted like the chaimen topping for pastourma if you know what this is. I was awed by the intense flavor and have been looking for recipes. Unfortunately, I only found one and it claims celery as part of the ingredients, which does not seem right to me. Celery is a pronounced flavor in anything and the ATZIKA sample I tasted did not have celery in it. I am going to try your recipe above and see what I can come up with. We are lucky that we have 2 Middle Eastern stores not far from us and shop there whenever we need things. I am sure I have seen the pomegranate molasses but didn’t know how to use it; I do now!!! thank you!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      That’s just great Chrysoulla, thank you. I am with you, I have not had muhammara with celery! Enjoy this and let us know how you like it!

  11. Kate says:

    I just made this for a Super Bowl party – tastes amazing! I garnished it with some chopped parsley and mint, and some whole walnuts. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Quinn Cushing says:

    That is a great story, wonderfully told.

 

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