One of the big reasons why I love cooking is because it is my window into another culture. I may not be fortunate enough to travel everywhere on my bucket list, but at the very least, I can get a sense of another country, of another society, through food.
I purchased a copy of the #CookForSyria Recipe Book a few years ago. The cookbook is a collection of recipes inspired by Syrian cuisine that were developed by notable British chefs and influencers. Page after page, the book is filled with mouthwatering recipes.
As I flipped through the cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi’s muhammara caught my eye. When I lived in the Bay Area, I always purchased muhammara at the San Mateo farmers’ market. The red pepper dip is a lot more difficult for me to find now, and I was eager to try making it at home.
This muhammara recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi’s. One of the major differences is the preparation method. His recipe calls for pounding roasted peppers in a pestle and mortar, which gives the dip more texture but also labor intensive. I wanted the dip to be silkier in texture, so I blended the ingredients in my Vitamix. You can also blend all the ingredients in a food processor, though the dip won’t be as smooth.
I enjoy muhammara as a snack with crackers, and I have also used it as a spread for sandwiches. It’s also good as a paste to flavor grains, such as quinoa, millet or rice. This dip is incredibly versatile!
HOW TO ROAST PEPPERS FOR MUHAMMARA RECIPE
I roasted the red bell peppers whole in a gas oven at 400ºF for 35 to 40 minutes, until some of the skin has charred. I’ve tried roasting them in an electric oven, but the peppers’ outer skins didn’t blacken.
If you cannot roast bell peppers easily, I recommend buying jarred roasted red bell peppers. You’ll need about 1 1/2 cups of the roasted peppers.
WHERE TO FIND POMEGRANATE MOLASSES
Pomegranate molasses gives muhammara its signature tangy and sweet flavor. You can find pomegranate molasses in specialty food shops, but I know it’s not easy. That’s why I prefer making my own. You can find my pomegranate molasses here.
If you are looking for a quick substitution, you can swap the molasses for 2 teaspoons of honey and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar (in addition to the balsamic vinegar that’s already in the recipe).
Muhammara (Red Pepper Dip)
- 3 medium red bell peppers
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (see note 1)
- 1/2 cup walnut halves, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (see note 2)
- 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (see note 3)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- ground black pepper
- carrot tops or parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC) and position an oven rack to the center position. Line a baking sheet pan with foil.
- Put the bell peppers on the baking sheet and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning them occasionally, until the outer skin is blackened. Once the peppers are roasted, transfer them to a heat-safe bowl and cover the bowl with a lid or a silicone cover. Let the peppers sit for about 30 minutes. The outer skins of the peppers slide right off if you let them steam inside a bowl for a little while (see note 4). Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skin, stem, seeds and ribs.
- Add the peppers, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, salt, red pepper flakes, cumin and olive oil into a high-speed blender or the bowl of a food processor. Blend everything until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
- Empty the muhammara into a serving bowl. Add another 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts onto the muhammara.
- Drizzle some olive oil on top. Garnish with additional chopped walnuts, black pepper, and carrot tops or parsley, if you like. Serve immediately and refrigerate any leftovers. The dip is best consumed within 3 to 4 days.
- You can make this gluten free by using gluten-free breadcrumbs. Another alternative is crackers.
- Make fresh pomegranate molasses from my recipe. You can also swap it with 2 teaspoons of honey and 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar.
- Traditionally, muhammara is made with Aleppo pepper. I decided to use plain red pepper flakes, as it is easier to find.
- You can also skip the step of steaming the peppers and just let them sit on your counter until they’re cool enough to handle. The skins will be a little more difficult to remove.
NOTE: This recipe was first published in February 2017. I updated the ingredients slightly and added new photos.