Monday, June 15, 2009

muhammara: red pepper and walnut puree

I am inexplicably fond of certain kinds of culinary busywork: shucking corn, grating cheese, dicing onions. I take pleasure in the monotony of the mis en place.

Of course, there are exceptions. Skinning hazelnuts, for instance. (After discovering a reliable source of blanched hazelnuts in Kalustyan's, M and I pronounced, with Scarlett O'Hara-esque conviction, that we would never go back.) Or cleaning mushrooms.

This was my first experience with roasting peppers, a task whose entertainment value remains dubious. I was charmed by the rustic approach (my well-honed marshmallow roasting technique came in handy), but turned off by the feel of exposed pepper flesh. The process was also painfully prolonged, as I did not char the peppers adequately; be sure yours are all black and blistered before you attempt to remove the skins.

Of course, if anything will make you forgive/forget these frustrations, it’s muhammara, a Middle Eastern variation on romesco sauce. Pureed with walnuts, breadcrumbs and pomegranate syrup, and flecked with Aleppo pepper, our roasted red peppers achieved spicy, smoky nirvana. A generous reward for any kitchen toils.

Adapted from Spice, by Ana Sortun

2 large red bell peppers (about 1 pound), roasted and peeled, seeds removed
4 whole scallions, trimmed and finely chopped (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (about 1 large clove)
1/3 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
1/2 cup finely ground toasted bread crumbs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon Aleppo chilies, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Urfa chilies, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon yogurt
3/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

In a small mixing bowl add the peppers, scallions, garlic, walnuts, pine nuts, bread crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, Aleppo and Urfa chilies, cumin, yogurt, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir to combine.

Puree the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Garnish with some toasted pine nuts or walnuts, chopped scallions, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Sprinkle with more Aleppo and/or Urfa chilies if desired. Serve with warm pita bread.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to add that the Muhammara, quite delicious on its own, makes a stellar companion to the Beet Tzatziki described below. The earthy, nutty (and spicy) red pepper dip begs for the coolness and the beet-sweetness of the tzatziki. Alternating between the two was particularly satisfying. And: both dips made the trip from hors d'oeuvres hour to on-the-table dinner condiments. In other words: it would be a shame to leave them out of the rest of the meal.