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MUHAMMARA(RED PEPPER AND WALNUT PASTE)

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MuhammaraWith its brilliant red color and intense flavors that fuse together to tantalize the palate; Muhammara is the star of the Aleppian Mezze and a seductive companion to many kibbeh dishes. It looks so easy to prepare, but in fact it is rather difficult to adjust the balance of flavors which depends mainly on the ingredients used and taste buds of the chef. One can only imagine that in Aleppo there as many versions of this recipe as there are cooks.

The principal ingredients are red pepper paste dibs Fleifleh, chopped walnuts, pomegranate molasses, cumin, breadcrumbs and olive oil. It may include chopped onion, garlic, lemon juice and sesame paste (tahina) which reduce the flavor of the main ingredients.

If dibs Fleifleh is not available fresh or dried red bell peppers may be used instead, see variation below on how to prepare it with dried red pepper and no breadcrumbs. Care must be taken when using pomegranate molasses. I have used the genuine Aleppian product that is not impaired by the addition of sugar, citric acid, or dyes. It has a lemony sweet taste. That is why the recipe below includes lemon juice as an option. The success of recipe thus depends on your taste buds and your wise choice of good ingredients.

Serve Muhammara on its own with other dishes or as part of a Mezze, it is so good eaten together with mortadella. It may be served as a dip with vegetables and bread by mixing it with more oil and water. I serve it sometimes smeared on Arabic flat bread then grilled, or as a canapé in oven grilled filo or Arabic flat bread cups (fill cups with Muhammara just before serving).

Muhammara is known in the rest of the Levant, such as South Lebanon where they serve it along with kibbeh bil-siniyeh, and in Western Turkey where it is known as acuka. But it is in Aleppo that it is widely prepared and crowned as their own.

MuhammaraIngredients:

4 to 5 servings with other appetizers

1 cup (80 g) dried breadcrumbs prepared at home

from sandwich bread (see note below)

5 tablespoons red pepper paste dibs Fleifleh (see note)

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon Aleppo ground red pepper or paprika

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice if needed

About ⅓ cup water

1 cup walnuts (100 g)

1 teaspoon salt if needed, or to desire

Extra olive oil for top

 

1.      Using a fork, mix all ingredients in a medium size bowl except water and walnuts.

2.      Add water gradually till you have a smooth moist paste. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3.      Remove few whole walnuts for decoration. Chop half walnuts coarsely and the rest chop finely.

4.      Add coarsely and finely chopped walnuts to the bowl and mix well.

5.      Spoon Muhammara to a serving platter, smooth top and make a design using a small spoon if desired. Drizzle with olive oil.

6.      Decorate with whole walnuts and mint and serve at room temperature. (Muhammara keeps well for 10 days in the refrigerator. You may need to mix it with little water the next day).

 

N.B.:

If red pepper paste is not available fresh or grilled red pepper may be used.

Breadcrumbs:

Bought dried breadcrumbs are finely ground and weigh about 135 g per cup. Dried breadcrumbs prepared at home from

kaak (breadsticks) are less fine and weigh 100 g per cup. Dried breadcrumbs prepared at home from slices of

sandwich bread weigh 80 g per cup. Amount of water used in the recipe depends on the kind of breadcrumbs used.

 

Variation:

Muhammara may be decorated with pine nuts.

Muhammara with dried red pepper and no breadcrumbs:

Use 150 g of dried red bell pepper. Soak them in water 30 minutes then squeeze dry. Mix with 2 tablespoons lemon juice,

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, 1 teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ¾ cup chopped walnuts, and few

tablespoons olive oil.

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© 2005 Cooking Courses Marlene Matar