Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I love mezze platters. They are wonderful to share with a crowd, sipping wine, nibbling on salty olives or feta, enjoying the crisp cool salads and crunchy falafel, and feeling the whoosh of steam when you tear off a bit of warm puffy pita bread to dunk in those delicious dips.
My favorite of the dips is muhammara, a roasted red-pepper and walnut dip that sadly doesn't feature as often on mezze platters as its more familiar cousins like hummus and baba ghannouj. While I love them all, they don't come close to this one for complexity of taste and texture. Silky roasted red peppers are wonderful when combined with earthy, nutty toasted walnuts - red pepper pesto or romesco sauce, anyone?
The balance of flavors is rounded out by some fairly common ingredients - vibrant garlic, smoky cumin and a little heat from crushed red pepper flakes. Some versions have breadcrumbs in there as well, but I didn't use any and I liked it that way! You can make it thicker or thinner depending on your taste. What lifts this dip from the mundane to the simply sublime, though, is a splash of pomegranate molasses that adds a subtle tart-sweet background to everything. It is available at most Middle Eastern grocers and is an inexpensive purchase - a little goes a long way. I acquired a bottle on a recent visit to Sahadi's in Brooklyn, and I now add it to vegetable stews and salad dressings.
Muhammara is good as a dip, or you can use it in any number of other ways. It all comes together in the food processor in a flash. It makes an excellent sandwich spread too. Slather generously on some nice crusty bread, top with greens of your choice, some crunchy vegetables and feta or goat cheese for an exotically delicious tartine. The picture below is of my lunch: Multi-grain bread spread with muhammara, piled with arugula and topped with a slice of pan-fried eggplant. I placed a slice of fresh goat cheese on the eggplant for the last minute of cooking so it would get all nice and oozy with the heat. A tall frosty glass of fresh watermelon juice completed a delicious repast.

Recipe: Muhammara (makes about 1 cup)
Two large red peppers, roasted and peeled (I roasted my own but you can use bottled ones)
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted lightly and chopped fine
1 fat garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern grocers)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and process till a puree forms. Transfer to a bowl, taste and season if necessary. It's really that easy! Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.