Muhammara (Syrian Pomegranate Dip)

Fruit, Sauces & Spreads

Muhammara 01

I love watching people try this for the first time. Its flavor is mystical, almost indescribable. So enchanted by it am I that I feel incomplete if I don’t have any stored in the fridge.

Variations of this mesmerizing dip abound. Some are coarse, some are pureed, some are burgundy, some are orange. But all of them share a few traits: pomegranate, walnuts and red peppers.

My Blasphemous Way
My unconventional variation deviates in several ways

  1. I don’t use breadcrumbs or pita as a base. I don’t like their mushiness. This makes the recipe inherently gluten-free.
  2. Lots of walnuts. Their nuttiness and earthiness give the flavor a superb backbone.
  3. Spanish smoked hot paprika. It lends to the flavor a beautiful aroma and smokiness.
  4. There’s no garlic. You can add it, if you like (one clove, if I decided to use it). Personally, I want the piquancy of the peppers to stand on their own.

2 1/2 cups walnuts (250 g.)
2 medium red bell peppers (350 g. raw; 200 g. roasted and seeded)
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp. Aleppo pepper
1 Tbsp. Spanish Smoked Hot Paprika
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. Urfa Biberoptional

A Note on Spices
Aleppo pepper is the fundamental spice of this dip. It originates from Aleppo, Syria, a culinary capital of the Middle East. This mild pepper is sold in crushed form, absent seeds and veins. The flakes are slightly oily, a tiny tart, fruity, sweet and piquant enough to still be sociable. However, I understand that they can be difficult to find. There are two levels of substitution, in my opinion:

  1. The better option would be to use ground, preferably oily, ancho pepper, seeds and veins removed, with a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper.
  2. The lesser option would be to use just a pinch of red chile flakes and a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper.

I buy mine from World Spice Merchants and, fortunately, they ship outside of Seattle.

Also from World Spice, I buy Urfa Biber, an almost black Turkish chile. The most concise description I have read is from Serious Eats, in which the author compares it to a union of roasted coffee and raisins. It is a lovely companion to Aleppo pepper, and is especially compatible in this dish due to the deep flavors of the roasted walnuts and blistered red peppers. Of course, it’s completely optional, but naturally invited.

Finally, the paprika here is way different from the Hungarian kind most of us are used to. This stuff is aromatic, smokey, pungent and SPICY. I use the Rey de la Vera brand. It’s available at supermarkets.

Prepare the Ingredients
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Roast the walnuts for about 25 minutes, or until fragrant and dark golden. Remove and cool to room temperature.

Place the raw red pepper over a high flame on a gas burner. Let it rest directly on the burner, a few minutes for each side, rotating it with tongs. Make sure to roast the top and bottom, too. It should be completely black, or near, before removing from the heat.

If you don’t have a gas burner, you may preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pepper on a sheet pan on the top rack, without oil, until blistered, rotating as necessary.

Place into a paper bag or a covered bowl, allowing the steam to moisten the pepper. After about 10 minutes, remove and peel the skin. Doing this under a stream of cold water will make it easier and keep your fingertips from becoming sticky.

If, however, you decide to use jarred or canned roasted red peppers, make sure to rinse them well. Also, you may want to add a pinch of sugar to the mix, as the preserved ones tend to be briny, their natural sweetness lost during the scrunching.

Make Magic
In a food processor, blend the walnuts until they become walnut butter. Add the whole, seeded red pepper. Blend more. Add the Aleppo pepper, smoked paprika, sea salt, and lemon juice. Blend. While it blends, drizzle in the pomegranate molasses, then drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape into a bowl and adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve in small dish, garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds or chopped walnuts, and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper.

Muhammara 02

P.S. This dip is much, much better if you let it sit overnight in the fridge, then come back up to room temperature before serving. It’s during this process that the real magic occurs.

Photos by Lori Paulson

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