Muhammara: It’s Vegan, It’s Good For You and It’s Damned Sexy

Muhammara is a dip, spread, sauce, condiment or salad that is said to have originated in Aleppo, Syria, although, it is served and eaten all over the Middle East.

It is also sexy: red, a little spicy, smooth, and oh so slippery on the tongue and tingly on the lips. It’s like a long kiss that you don’t want to end: and the best part is this–it’s good for you.

It is made from ingredients that are full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals, and it is just plain good. Low in calories, high in nutrients, and it tastes naughty, like you are blowing your diet just by looking at its come-hither-scarlet self.

Muhammara. Say it with me, slowly, sensually: “Muhammara.” Mmmm. Yeah.

This delectable dish is scarlet from the roasted and fresh red sweet and hot peppers that are its main constituents, fragrant from the cumin, onion and garlic, rich from the olive oil and ground walnuts, and tangy from the pomegranate molasses. It is very pretty, especially the way I make it, which is slightly chunky from the addition of fresh red and green bell pepper, and flecked with fresh bits of fresh cilantro.

You will also note that like hummus and baba ganoush, muhammara is vegan. Not just vegan, but vegiliciously vegan. Tasty enough that everyone, vegan or not, loves it. It is just that good.

I have only had it as a dip with pita bread and used as a condiment with lamb and chicken kebab, but the muhammara was so delicious in those contexts, I couldn’t help but try and think of some other ways to use it. I think it would make a great sauce for baked fish or seafood, and a lovely marinade for grilled chicken. My mind is still working out these possibilities, but I promise to have a recipe for a dinner special I am planning for Friday that will include muhammara as a component.

But, before you go cooking with it, you have to learn how to make muhammara. There are lots of recipes on the ‘net, no doubt, many of them more authentic than mine, but the truth is, mine is pretty tasty, so I think you should give it a shot. It is easy to make, especially if you start out with already roasted peppers–at home, I roast them when they are in season, and peel and seed them then seal them up in ziplock bags, push out the air and stick them in the freezer. You could also use canned or jarred roasted red peppers for this, too–just drain and rinse them well. Or, you can start with fresh red peppers and roast them yourself. (That link takes you to a post that includes a recipe with instructions–and a picture on how to roast your own bell peppers.)

You can use either a fresh chile pepper in this dish, or you could use hot sauce or a spoonful of Chinese chili garlic paste. Any of these will work, though I am fond of the first and last options, myself. In either case, be sure and use some of Aleppo pepper flakes when you saute the onions–they not only add great flavor, but also give the muhammara a great fragrance.

As for the breadcrumbs–I used a freshly toasted pita to make them–I just cut it up and tossed it in the food processor with the roasted pepper. Then, I processed everything together with about a tablespoon of olive oil. I think that using fresh bread to make the crumbs gives a better texture and flavor to the dip, but if you want, you can use packaged breadcrumbs. Or, use whatever good bread you have around–the amount of breadcrumbs I give is approximate, since I didn’t really measure as I made it, but I suspect that one piece of pita bread would make about a cup of breadcrumbs.

You will notice that I don’t puree everything into a paste–I like my muhammara to have texture. I not only add some fresh green and red bell pepper, chopped finely, but I also only roughly chop some of the walnuts. This just makes the dip that much more interesting to eat.

Finally, if you want, you can use either fresh mint or parsley instead of the cilantro in your muhammara. I just happen to really like the way the cilantro sets off the sweetness of the peppers.

Remember: this dip is good for you. Antioxidants, cholesterol lowering ingredients and vitamins.

And it’s sexy. Say it one more time: “Muhammara.”

Now, get in your kitchen and make yourself a batch of it, and seduce yourself, your family and your friends.

Muhammara
Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds roasted red peppers, divided
1 toasted round of pita bread
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup toasted walnut pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons (or to taste) chili garlic paste or Sriracha
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 medium fresh red bell pepper, seeded, cored and diced finely
2 tablespoons fresh green bell pepper, diced finely
2 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro, mint or parsley
salt to taste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or to taste
chopped cilantro leaves and whole pistachios for garnish

Method:

Cut roasted peppers into strips and put two-thirds of them in a food processor. Cut or tear pita into roughly 1″ squares and put into the food processor along with the peppers, garlic and two tablespoons of olive oil. Puree, then pour into a medium sized mixing bowl.

Heat remaining olive oil on medium heat, and add onions and Aleppo pepper flakes. Cook until onions are a dark golden brown and fragrant. Add to bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients, except the salt and pomegranate molasses. Stir well to combine. Taste for salt, add what is needed, then add at least 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses.

Chill, but bring to room temperature before serving. Garnish with cilantro leaves and pistachios, and serve with toasty warm pita wedges. (Or with lamb and chicken kebabs, but when you do that, you lose vegan points. I’m just saying. On the other hand, I bet it would make a great sauce/marinade for grilled portabello mushrooms. I bet that would rule, and still be vegan.)

20 Comments

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  1. I am ALL over this one! Thanks!

    Comment by Ann — January 10, 2008 #

  2. Trivia of the day: In Maltese, ahmar (hamra if feminine) means red. It’s a strong not silent h and has a line crossing the stem, but I don’t have a font installed on this. I suspect muhammara means the red(dish) one… in Maltese imhammar means reddish/reddened.

    I’m so going to try this! One question: pomegranate molasses aren’t always readily available around here (tho I will check my nice Asian shop that sells lots of Middle Eastern stuff), is there a good alternative? And is it known by another name, in case I’m missing the obvious?

    Comment by Mamlambo — January 10, 2008 #

  3. That was the most erotic recipe intro that i’ve ever read.

    Comment by Donius — January 10, 2008 #

  4. But where’s the picture??? :)

    Comment by Kristi — January 10, 2008 #

  5. Kristi–if you read all the way to the end of the post–you would see that for the time being, I cannot post the pictures that are on my laptop–the laptop will not connect to the internet and that is where my muhammara photos are.

    So, Friday, I will edit this post after taking a photo of the muhammara at work. The photo will be added after I get home, probably around ten or eleven pm.

    I hated posting it without the photo–but, well, computers suck.

    Except when they work, and then they rule.

    ;-)

    Glad everyone loves the post and the recipe, though!

    Comment by Barbara — January 10, 2008 #

  6. Wow that sounds exotic. I am surely going to try it. Thanks No probs about the photos. We all go thru this sometime or the other. I u’stand

    Comment by Shella — January 11, 2008 #

  7. Sexy it is… I have everything on hand. Thanks for the recipe, Barbara.

    Comment by Suganya — January 11, 2008 #

  8. I seem to be having a mirror week – one of my blog friends and I both blogged about molten chocolate cake this week, and then I find your post about Muhammara which I blogged about just last week. I usually make it with pine nuts, not walnuts but having only half the quantity of pine nuts, used half of each this time, and it still came out terrific. What a versatile dip!

    Comment by Birdseyeview — January 11, 2008 #

  9. Makes me wonder what you were doing before writing this ;^)

    Comment by Sherri — January 11, 2008 #

  10. I am ridiculously ADDICTED to this stuff.
    We have great middle Eastern markets in, Watertown, a few towns over and those places make it sooooooooo good, I gave up making my own. Then there is this pita bread coated in thyme and zatar…OMG.

    Comment by jo — January 11, 2008 #

  11. Slurp with a side of yummy!

    Comment by Nancy — January 11, 2008 #

  12. Mirror week here too to a certain extent, birdseyeview. My sister and brother-in-law just emailed that we HAVE to try muhammara with a link to a muhammara recipe on “Chocolate and Zucchini”…

    I’m so glad to have a use for the bottle of pomegranate molasses that is in the fridge!

    -Elizabeth

    P.S. Barbara, I’m not sure that the link to “roasting red peppers” works. It just takes one back to this post here. Nor was I successful at finding your post via your sidebar. :-(

    I was roasting red peppers at Christmas time and discovered a WAY easier approach than I had used before. Instead of roasting them whole, I cut the peppers in half, seeded them and roasted them on a rack skin side up. No need for turning part way through. They were dead easy to peel and no need to have them slip and slide all over the place trying to clean out the seeds as happens when roasting them whole. I’ll always do them that way now.

    Comment by ejm — January 12, 2008 #

  13. Elizabeth–I fixed the link–and posted the pictures, finally! Yay!

    birdseye–at the restaurant, we used pistachios to garnish.

    And as for versatility–I used it as a sauce in a baked shrimp dish tonight at the restaurant. It was quite tasty, except none of the customers wanted to try it. Which is hard to predict, but hey–this happens now and again.

    Kristi–pictures are up–and quite pretty. The first two batches of pictures i took were out of focus–but these were just right.

    And you can now see just how dead sexy this dip is–I love the colors!

    Comment by Barbara — January 12, 2008 #

  14. I just made a version of this, Barbara (mixing and matching about 6 different recipes). Ours isn’t nearly as lusciously red as yours – I’m guessing that your addition of the tomato paste is what makes your humammara SO red. I’m also guessing that the fact that I used one red pepper and one yellow pepper is the reason our humammara is so NOT red.

    However, it’s very good. Thanks for the nudge to make it! I’m really looking forward to trying it tomorrow when we have freshly baked pita to go with it! (Dough is rising now)

    -Elizabeth

    Comment by ejm — January 18, 2008 #

  15. yumm, looks good and also makes you sexy :D thanks for this tip!

    Comment by R. Imenik — February 12, 2008 #

  16. Mamlambo – ‘hamra’ means ‘red’ in Arabic as well, and (as I’m sure you know) the ‘mu’ prefix usually is attached to a noun or adjective to indicate someone who does, or is, that. So…to use the first word that comes to mind, ‘tarjama’ is a translation, and ‘mutarjama’ is a translator, and if you do the same to ‘hamra’ you come up with ‘muhammra,’ something with the quality of red, and it’s a small step from there to ‘muhammara’, voila, as Mamlambo points out, ‘the red (dish)’.

    And that’s your Arabic linguistics lesson for today : )

    Comment by Heather — February 18, 2008 #

  17. Great and excellent article it’s realy helpful. Thanks again.

    Comment by bilard — May 23, 2008 #

  18. I’m interested in knowing if “Vegan” means that ALL the ingredients here are Vegan – the chili’s, the pepper etc. How does Vegan work? I know that there are different kinds of Vegans, and most certainly it would be good for someone to know that before doing a recipe. This does look delicious, though. Really delicious. I really must take a look at it and give it a try sometime soon – simply delicious.

    Comment by luggage — July 20, 2008 #

  19. Luggage, vegan just means that all of the ingredients are vegetable in origin. There are no animal-based ingredients in this recipe, hence, it is vegan.

    There are different types of vegetarians, of which vegans are one type, but I am not aware that there are different sorts of vegans.

    Comment by Barbara — July 20, 2008 #

  20. “You will notice that I don’t puree everything into a paste–I like my muhammara to have texture. I not only add some fresh green and red bell pepper, chopped finely, but I also only roughly chop some of the walnuts. This just makes the dip that much more interesting to eat.”

    This is what I was looking for “MUHAMMARA”!

    Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by LAj — October 26, 2009 #

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