As a child, I never went through a bologna sandwich and Handi-Snacks phase. On a normal school day, my brown bag contained small containers of hummus, tabouleh, diced avocado, and sliced onion, which I stuffed into a pita at the cafeteria table. My friends gawked at first, but after a few months, I was bringing in extra to share.
I’m still a big fan of these small mezze-type dishes. I’ve always got some homemade hummus and tabouleh in my refrigerator, and I’ve been known to churn out batch after batch of baba ghanoush. If your friends like to drop by for unexpected visits, I recommend keeping these things on hand. Nothing impresses a houseguest more than putting together a Middle Eastern spread at a moment’s notice. It’s colorful, tasty, and effortless.
But there is one mezze that I wish I’d been familiar with back in my days as a middle-schooler with an adventurous palate. It was only a couple years ago that I was introduced to muhammara, and now no mezze platter I put together is complete without it.
Muhamarra is essentially a dip made from roasted red peppers and pureed walnuts. But oh, it’s so much more. Toss in some fresh breadcrumbs to thicken it up, a few cloves of garlic for a spicy bite, a bit of lemon juice for brightness, and a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat, and you’re almost there.
The most important ingredient is pomegranate molasses. It should be in your pantry right now, but it’s probably not. This powerful stuff has the consistency of maple syrup and packs an incredible amount of tart, fruity flavor in every drop. When it comes to muhamarra, pomegranate molasses is like a celebrity’s unexpected cameo in a movie: It might be a small part, but it also might be the most important. It’s Billy Crystal and muhamarra is “The Princess Bride.” So stop by a Middle Eastern market or your local Whole Foods and pick up a bottle.
Muhamarra is originally from Syria, but it’s eaten all over the Mediterranean and Middle East. The most common use is as a dip for pita chips, but I’ve smeared it on a grilled chicken sandwich, served it alongside fish, and rolled it inside slices of roasted eggplant.
Locally, I’ve found it on the menu at Sofra and Rendezvous, and Samira’s Homemade makes a tasty version that is sold at most of the city’s farmers markets (including Brookline’s winter market, which opened last weekend at the Coolidge Corner Arcade building). But if you own a food processor, it’s just as easy to make your own. I make it so often that my friends have dubbed it “muhamari.” After a few batches of your own, you can come up with a new name.
8 ounces roasted red peppers, drained
⅓ cup walnuts, toasted, then chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon cumin
A hearty sprinkling of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons oil
In a food processor, puree red peppers until smooth. Add walnuts, garlic, breadcrumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Process until smooth, wiping down bowl as needed. Drizzle in oil, then season to taste with salt.