Monday, September 12, 2011

Muhammara - Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut dip

Dear foodies,

Last week on Thursday all of us here in Southern California were forced to break our bond with electronic gadgets and spend some quality time, well that's putting it lightly. Around 3:30 in the afternoon we lost power, I had left work just before the power was off and wasn't aware of it until I got off the interstate and found all the traffic lights out of service. Getting past busy intersections was tricky, I have to give credit to the majority of drivers on the road for being fair and calm but its those few weird, impatient ones that created a whole lot of mess on the road. Not willing to wait their turn they would zip through the intersection leaving others confused and irate. I was just glad that I left early before all the major trouble started. As the evening rush hour approached the traffic situation just got worse.

The reason I left work early was to keep my appointment with the dentist. Boy, am I glad the power went off before he started work on my teeth, I don't want to imagine what would have happened otherwise! I get to the dentist, open the door to the waiting room and to my utter surprise I see the doctor and the nurses sitting around enjoying the dentists! ha! That's when I realized it was a major power shutdown and I happily accepted to have my appointment rescheduled and walked away with a chocolate-vanilla ice cream in hand. I wish every trip to the dentist is just as good, hehe :)

Once I got home I picked up a book, sat outside and happily spent the evening reading without any distractions. When it got dark outside I finally got to bring out all the little tea-light candles that I had collected over the last few years and it felt like Diwali for a while. I could hear everyone around us having fun and taking advantage of the shutdown. People got out and barbecued, our weekly farmers market stalls were serving food way past closing time until they had nothing left to sell. I could hear a few guitars strumming and friends sitting together having fun. If not for the emergency/service sectors also losing power and the traffic situation, everyone else had a good time. Taking a break from electronics and spending quality time is something we should be doing everyday, not because we are forced by a major power failure. On the flip side of all the fun you realize how crippled we become without electricity here. When in India, power cuts were a norm and life moved on smoothly for the most part without it. We could still cook, get other chores done, schools continued as usual, grocery stores did not face as much of a problem and people did not panic. In fact as a kid we welcomed the daily power cuts so we could escape from our books and go out to play.

Since I could not cook dinner that night and did not dare open the refrigerator door too long, I reached in and grabbed all the ingredients I needed for a sandwich in one quick raid. V bought bread and orange juice on his way home and we were well on our way to a good meal. This dip that I'm sharing with you today saved our dinner for us. I've been experimenting with sandwich options lately and had crisp cucumbers, roasted red pepper, delicious heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil on hand. I slathered bread slices with Muhammara, topped it with tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, roasted red peppers and basil. With a crackle of salt and pepper our gourmet no-cook dinner was ready in minutes.

Muhammara (Moo-HAHM-mer-ah) is a middle eastern dip made from roasted red peppers, walnuts, bread and pomegranate molasses. Its earthy, tart, spicy, nutty and slightly sweet all at once and anything that's topped with it turns instantly delicious. This dip is said to have originated from Aleppo, Syria and spread out to Lebanon and rest of Middle-east soon. Traditionally it includes Aleppo peppers that are moderately spicy and have a slight smoky, fruity flavor to them. Its a little tough to find them but a Middle-eastern store or a well stocked spice store should have some. I love sprinkling it on hummus, grilled vegetables and cous cous salads. Just like hummus, Muhammara can be used as a dip for pita chips or regular chips, vegetables, topped on grilled vegetables, kebabs and in this case as a delightful spread for sandwiches too.

A key ingredient in Muhammara is Pomegranate Molasses. The name sounds intriguing and exotic but simply put its nothing but pomegranate juice reduced to a thick, finger licking consistency along with some sugar. Food Network fans will remember Aarti Sequira making a batch of pom molasses for a challenge and getting rave reviews for it by the judges. I'm guessing they din't know how simple it is to make it. Pure Pomegranate juice is not a pleasant drink to have and needs help tempering its flavor. This molasses on the other hand is addictively tart and sweet, almost candy-like with a deep reddish purple color. Once you take a lick taste there's no going back. You'll come back for seconds and thirds and try hard to reserve some for the original dish. You can use it as a sweetner in sauces, barbeque sauce, ketchup, dips and I think it would be great on Indian chaats as well taking the place of the ever popular imli-khajur chutney. I don't really think you'll need me to give you ideas... once you have a taste of it you'll come up with your own ideas because its that good. If you are lucky enough to have a middle eastern store close to you, get there as soon as you can to acquire your own.
Muhammara - Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip
Yield - 2 cups
Prep time-20mins
Cook time - N/A
  • 3 - Roasted Red bell peppers
  • 1/3 cup - Walnuts, gently toasted
  • 1 - garlic clove, crushed
  • 4-5 chunks of fresh bread
  • 1.5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp - Tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp - lemon juice/lemon vinegar
  • 1 tsp - Aleppo pepper or Crushed Red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp - Cumin powder (toasted and ground cumin seeds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
    Bring together all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender jar and process until combined. Gradually stream in olive oil until you get a creamy, smooth consistency. Taste test for balance of flavors adjusting proportions to suit your tastes.
Notes: You can use store bought or home made roasted red peppers here. Roasting red peppers is quick and easy on a gas burning stove, if not coat them lightly with oil and broil in the oven for 8-10mins.
- Take great care while roasting the walnuts always using medium low heat and tossing them frequently until you can smell them and they are lightly browned.
- You can also add a few chunks of onions to this dip and increase the amount of garlic. I'm not a fan of either in their raw form and so avoid using much.
- A few more recipes for dips - Cannellini Bean Hummus & Tomatillo Salsa Verde

With football season in full swing this is the perfect dip to get into circulation at your next game day spread. We enjoyed this with chips, spread it on sandwiches and the next day I topped it with some heirloom tomato & basil salad on bread and it tasted great every single time. With so many complex flavors brought together harmoniously in one dip every bite remains just as interesting as the last. I added extra pom molasses in mine because I was in love with the tart sweet flavor. The molasses is a perfect counter balance to the earthiness of walnuts and bread and elevates the flavor of all the other ingredients. When you try it at home make it your own by adjusting the different elements in the dip.
I added a brand new page for a Glossary of Indian ingredients mentioning English/Telugu/Tamil/Hindi names where possible. Do take a look and share your suggestions! A link to the page is now included in the Tabs right below the header

12 thoughts:

Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

That looks gorgeous! Fresh, light, and perfect for a family snack!

Tina said...

Tempting dip and clicks dear....

Swati Sapna said...

Am glad you enjoyed the power outtage well! You are right, in India we are so used to it... however i think it was easier during our childhood. somehow the heat and lack of fans/ACs never bothered us much! Maybe it was the greenery and lack of pollution... nowadays an hour without power is a nightmare!
Still you seem to have made the best of it :) The dip looks delicious with a lovely colour...

Usha said...

You know what, I had a dentist appointment the day after the earth quake on the east coast and kept wondering, what if there is a tremor when the dentist is working on a patient? omg, that is scary..

Bell pepper & walnut dip looks delicious!

Nitha said...

Dip looks delicious... And yeah. we used to have a fun time during the power cut back in India - Break from study time, play anthakshari, quiz etc :)

Priya said...

Saee, yes, its been really convenient having this dip around.

Tina, thank you

Swati, you are right, all my memories of power outages are tinged with nostalgia. It must be a whole different story right now. Summers are a lot worse now from what I remember as a kid and I did not have any responsibilities either. Just happy to get away from school work... :)

Usha, ouch, yes better not think of the whatif's now :D I am guessing they were out eating ice-cream because they weren't seeing patients at that time, it was just the staff. Otherwise back-up power must have kicked in. I'll ask them about it when I go next week :)

Nitha, yes, they were like mandatory play breaks for us and neighbors got together for chit-chat. Definitely a lot of fun memories as a result.

divya said...

looks gorgeous and fabulous...

Shirley @ Kokken69 said...

Love the cause of the power outage but I think the state took it a little bit to the extreme... With traffic lights off, this could potentially result in ugly,tragic accidents...

I absolutely love this delicious dip. It looks so flavourful!

TejasJJain said...

This looks yummy. can not wait to try...

Radhika said...

OMG! I read and heard about this from friends too.. Am glad you made hummus when light was out.. (in the lines of make hay while sun shines)
Pomegranate molasses indeed sounds exotic, got to try..
Also, thanks for stopping by to wish Priya..

Soma said...

This is one of my fav. dips/spreads. I can have it on anything! That pic. of the pom mol is mind blowing!!! Priya and the shot of fire in your other post.. so wonderful!

Srivalli said...

Priya that looks seriously addictive! your nature pictures..

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