Unquestionably the best dip I have ever tasted, muhammara: a coarsely ground mix of roasted peppers, walnuts, and gorgeous Syrian pepper flakes.
What is muhammara?
Muhammara is a Syrian dip, originating from the city of Aleppo, which you might easily guess since Aleppo pepper flakes are a crucial in quality, if not in quantity, ingredient. But it’s popular in the whole Levantine region: Syria, Israel, Iraq and south-eastern Turkey.
I predict it is going to take over and eventually replace in popularity hummus, this modern day Middle Eastern go-to stalwart. Who wants to munch on chickpea puree of the beigest colour when they can have vibrant and spicy mix of peppers and walnuts?
So goodbye, hummus – hello, muhammara!
But until the onslaught of jars, tubs and containers of muhammara in delis and supermarkets is launched, we need to make our own at home. Which is absolutely fine because it is not at all complicated.
What ingredients must I have for muhammara?
The mixture is based on roasted, peeled and crushed red peppers. The best results, undoubtedly, will be achieved with fresh peppers, blackened in the oven then cored and skinned. But there are jars and jars of roasted peppers, Spanish or otherwise, in olive oil or brine, that can be used if the above sounds too messy.
The two, less encountered in an average store cupboard, ingredients are pomegranate molasses and Aleppo chilli flakes. Admittedly, we don’t use stuff like that every day in Europe and America.
But both are widely available these days (I bought mine from Ocado in the UK) and absolutely worth having. If you think you might substitute them for, say, ordinary chilli flakes and maple syrup (NOT recommendations), of course you might. The end result will just taste somewhat different than muhammara.
Aleppo pepper flakes are not very hot; they are aromatic like a cross between red pepper flakes, mild chilli and smoked paprika. If you purchase a small pot, you’ll be sure to use it in variety of dishes: chicken, salads or sprinkled on cheese on toast.
That is also something you can make at home, in case you didn’t know! And it’s gorgeous stuff, but that’s an aside – the shop-bought one is probably far more authentic.
As far as other uses, it is marvellous in salad dressing, great drizzled over desserts and beautiful with porridge or yoghurt.
How to make muhammara?
Whichever kind of roasted peppers you have, from scratch or from a jar, they just need whizzing very briefly with other ingredients.
Ottolenghi, whose recipe this is (of course it is!), advises to pound everything in pestle and mortar but it seems far too fiddly – or maybe my pestle and mortar is just not big enough.
A food processor or a blender simply needs a few pulses because the texture of muhammara should be chunky not smooth.
In absence of either, you can just chop up the peppers very finely with a knife – who knows, it might in fact be the best outcome?
I didn’t toast the walnuts nor does Ottolenghi say to but perhaps it would add more texture. They best be stirred in with salt and extra olive oil at the end, by no means blitzed in the food processor.
It keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week but it needs to be brought up to room temperature before serving.
And the only thing you need to serve alongside it is some lavish lavash or puffed pita!
More red peppers recipes
I really adore grilling or roasting peppers till charred and black, then peeling and coring them whilst still warm. And then use them in a roasted red pepper salad.
It’s not only always tomatoes, you know? Red pepper pasta sauce is gorgeous, rich and silky – your new favourite once you’ve tried.
There are peppers, and there are stuffed peppers, with rice and chicken filling and – of course – cheese bubbling on top.
More Middle Eastern recipes
Another stunning dip is mast o khiar, of Persian origin. A little closer to Greek tzatziki, it’s a mix of labneh, herbs, cucumber, nuts and raisins.
As mentioned above, lavash bread is an ideal accompaniment to muhammara dip. And it’s cooked on the hob to boot!
Traditional lamb koftas will complete the picture. Minced lamb, heavily seasoned, threaded onto skewers, can be grilled on the barbecue or a griddle.