cooking with pomegranate molasses: muhammara

bell pepper

I recently found myself with more pomegranate molasses than I will need for the rest of my life. When my husband discovered this great cocktail calling for it, he ordered not 1 but 6 bottles of the precious ingredient. Just in case, you know… It’s up to me to find ways to use it. I knew it would take more than giving vinegar a break in my salad dressings (try to replace the vinegar with pomegranate molasses; it gives a nice sweet-tart flavor.)

muhammara

Pomegranate is used all over the Mediterranean. I remember drinking pomegranate juice in the streets of Istanbul, freshly pressed to order, and thinking it was the best thing I have ever had.

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup made of concentrated juice and sugar. Its sweet and tangy taste makes it a versatile condiment, whether it’s used in cocktails, vinaigrettes, marinades or glazes. It also pairs well with eggplant and tomatoes. And for a quick and easy treat, add a little bit to your yogurt along with some crushed unsalted pistachios and dried rose petals.

muhammara

At a dinner at Mamnoon, a great new Middle Eastern restaurant in Seattle, I recently discovered that one of my apéritif staples, a red bell pepper and walnut dip, is pretty close to what is known in the Middle East as Muhammara, a red bell pepper caviar with walnut and pomegranate molasses. I immediately felt the urge to reproduce its complex flavor at home. This sweet and spicy dip of Syrian origin deserves a good place on your mezze tray, next to the more well-known hummus and baba ganoush. But be careful with the pomegranate molasses: It does not take much for its tangy taste to trigger the sweetness of the red bell peppers and the slight bitterness of the walnuts.

roasted bell peppers

Don’t make the same mistake we did. Don’t order your molasses online. Instead, buy it at a Middle Eastern grocery store. It will be cheaper and you won’t have to stock 6 bottles of it (not that I won’t use them, but space is rather precious in our apartment). You can also easily make it by boiling down a cup of pomegranate juice on low heat until it is reduced and thick enough to coat a spoon.

Considering the quantity of pomegranate molasses we have, I can see a lot of Lebanese inspired recipes in my future, and possibly in yours. Expect this ingredient to return often on deuxdilettantes.

walnuts

There are as many recipes as cooks in the Middle East. I found mine in The New York Times and I barely changed it. You can easily make it gluten-free by removing the bread crumbs. In that case, make sure to blot the roasted bell peppers dry with paper towels, because you won’t have the bread crumbs to absorb their excess liquid. 

Muhammara 

Adapted from The New York Times

Ingredients

Yields about 2 1/2 cups

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 jalapeño seeded
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the broiler of your oven and roast your red bell peppers for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them 2 to 3 times while cooking, until they are almost completely blackened. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, shaking frequently. Roasting the walnuts will enhance their nutty notes while bringing out a hint of bitterness.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel their skin off. Remove membranes and seeds and blot dry with paper towels.

Transfer to a food processor, along with the walnuts, bread crumbs, jalapeño pepper, onion, garlic, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary.

With the machine running, slowly pour in olive oil and process until combined. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

If you want to be traditional, serve your muhammara with pita bread, but it’s also good spread on fresh bread or for dipping raw vegetables.

Bee

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