Years ago, in war-torn Beirut, friends and neighbours would take advantage of ceasefires to host dinners over informal get-togethers. The evenings were jolly and, for a moment, they helped to forget the war. There was an unspoken pact that each household would serve something different, either an old family dish or some new recipe, torn out of the page of a magazine. The food was often simple and most of the time it was delicious.
I first tasted muhammara at one of these gatherings. It was early summer, so we ate on the terrace in the warm and quiet evening. Our host, who was originally from Aleppo, had been busy all afternoon preparing a generous spread of dishes from her home town. ‘Try my muhammara, it’s delicious with kibbeh‘, she said. I dolloped a spoonful of the thick red mix on my plate, unaware that the memory of its rich and slightly piquant taste was going to forever linger.
Muhammara is quick and easy to prepare; however, it is important to start with good quality walnuts and freshly made breadcrumbs as they form the basis of the spread. Red pepper paste and pomegranate molasses, which add flavour, and the deep red colour, can be purchased from specialty stores. Shops carry a vast range of brands, which in itself can also be confusing. My rule of thumb, is to look for a paste in a glass jar, and one without added color or preservatives. Pepper paste comes in mild and hot flavors.
- 125 g /1 cup packed chopped walnuts
- 100 g /1 cup and 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 50-75 g / 2-3 tablespoons mild red pepper paste
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 250 ml/1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 6 walnut halves for the garnish
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper for extra heat (optional)
- Roughly chop the walnuts either by hand or in food processor.
- Mix the dry ingredients and the spices in a bowl.
- Dilute the pepper paste in water and combine with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and olive oil.
- Incorporate the liquide mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the optional teaspoon of Aleppo pepper should you like it hot.
- Set the muhammara aside for 15 minutes until it sets and the breadcrumbs absorb the flavours.
- Transfer to a shallow serving dish and garnish with walnut halves. Add a drizzle of olive oil.