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Loading The Journey, Part Two
  • Muhammara (Spicy Red Pepper and Walnut Puree)

    Muhammara (Spicy Red Pepper and Walnut Puree)

    In Lebanon, my parents adapted and incorporated many of the local foods into our family meals. This red pepper puree is slightly less familiar than the classic trio of tabbouleh, hummus, and babba ghanoush, but it is used in much the same way as those mezze spreads. I like it because it is a little bit more distinctive than the other spreads with a nice balance of hot, sweet, and sour—one of my favorite combinations. When peppers are not in season I have been known to use high-quality Spanish canned piquillo peppers as an excellent substitute for the roasted fresh peppers.

    Servings & Time

    • Servings 2 cups
    • Prep 25 minutes
    • Cook 15 minutes

    Ingredients

    • 5 to 6 large red bell peppers
    • 1 small dried chile d’arbol or other relatively mild dried chile
    • ½ cup walnuts
    • ½ cup cubed crusty artisanal bread, toasted
    • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
    • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
    • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
    • Salt to taste
    • Bread (for serving)

    Method

    Char and roast the bell peppers so you can remove their skins: Place 1 or 2 peppers directly on the grate of a stovetop gas burner and cook over a high flame, turning often with tongs, until charred all over, about 7 minutes. If you don't have a gas stove, you can put them on a baking sheet and broil them, but it will take longer. You can also put them in a cast-iron pan and char over high heat. Set aside in a bowl covered with plastic wrap to steam a little and become even sweeter and more tender.

    When they are cool enough to handle, set a bowl of water nearby and then peel the black skin off the peppers with your fingers, dipping your fingers into the water to wash away the residue.

    (Rinsing them under running water rinses away too much of the flavor; using a bowl takes a little bit more work but I think a much better end result.) Pull the internal stems and seeds out this way too.

    In a spice grinder or coffee grinder (or with a mortar and pestle, but this will take longer), grind the chile to a coarse powder. In a food processor, combine the chile powder, walnuts, bread cubes, and garlic and pulse just a few times, until pulverized but not pasty.

    Add the peeled, roasted peppers and puree until smooth. Mix in the pomegranate molasses and then the oil. Add salt to taste.

    The spread can be served immediately with bread, or will keep covered for 4 to 5 days in the fridge.

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