A hot, sweet, and smoky roasted red pepper and walnut puree infused with pomegranate and a hint of cumin. Brick red, it is a staple made all over the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, served as a spread with local breads as well as with grilled meats and fish.
I fell in love with this earthy delight, thanks to Paula Wolfert’s recipe years ago, and have made it many, many, times since; adjusting proportions, finding substitutions for sometimes hard to find ingredients, and marveling at the combination of flavors that this simple “dip” delivers in every variation!
Makes: about 3 cups Prepare a day before serving.
- 3 large red bell peppers (1 ½ pounds)
- 3 small hot red chilies
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1/3 cup toasted crusty bread crumbs
- 1 small garlic clove, grated
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (available in Greek or Middle Eastern markets)
- 1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling when serving
Flame roast the bell peppers and chilies until they are completely charred all over. Place in a bowl and seal with plastic film to sweat them, which will release the skin from the flesh. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin away bit by bit. It’s a bit messy, but DO NOT be tempted to rinse as you go. You will be rinsing away flavor! Don’t worry about charred spots that will not release. They will add a smoky flavor to the dish. Ply the peppers and chilies open and remove all the seeds and pithy membranes. Again, no rinsing, other than your hands covered with seeds from time to time. Chop the peppers and chilies and set aside in a bowl.
Pomegranate syrup is sometimes hard to find, in which case you will have to make your own by reducing an entire container of pomegranate juice down to beautiful deep red amber glossy syrup; about 1/4 cup. You might also try using the Pomegranate syrup as a base for a simple vinaigrette; adding red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and a good quality olive oil!
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet, tossing frequently over a low flame. This develops a rich rounded flavor to the cumin and well worth the additional step. Grind and set aside.
Place the walnuts, bread crumbs, grated garlic, lemon juice, and pomegranate syrup in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is well ground and holds together around the sides of the work bowl.
Scrape down the sides of the work bowl and add the chopped peppers and chilies along with the pepper’s juices left in the bowl, toasted cumin, smoked paprika, and salt. Begin by pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then process into a smooth rich red puree. With the processor still running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube in a slow steady stream. This will bind the puree together.
Store the Muhammara in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day before serving to develop the flavors.
As is common in the regions of its origins, Muhammara is served, drizzled with olive oil and broken walnuts scattered on top, along with toasted pita wedges dusted with za-atar. Feel free to substitute pizza rounds, flour tortillas, or any other bread wedges.
Muhammara is also wonderful atop grilled meats, kabobs, and grilled fish; even slathered onto a juicy burger!
- 1/4 cup fresh wild thyme leaves (lemon thyme, hyssop, or oregano are reasonable substitutes)
- 2 tablespoons powdered sumac powder (sour mango powder a reasonable substitute, available at South Asian purveyors)
- 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground red chili powder (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne), optional
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C
Strip the fresh wild thyme leaves off the stem, discarding the stems. Place the leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer and dry roast just until they crumble easily between the fingers and are still green in color; about 10 to 12 minutes, being careful not to over dry roast the leaves, which will turn the leaves brown and bitter.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium low heat, tossing the seeds so they toast evenly. Set aside to add to the mix later.
Place the toasted wild thyme, sumac powder, and salt in a mortar and grind together into a fine powder. Add the toasted sesame seeds and coarsely grind into the mix, leaving some seeds whole. Taste and add more salt if needed and the chile powder if using.
Serve with toasted, or grilled, breads generously brushed with olive oil, or use a condiment with just about anything else you can imagine. The flavor is addictive and you will find that za’atar will find a permanent place as a must have seasoning on hand at all times in your kitchen!