Muhammara (Roasted Bell Pepper Spread with Walnuts and Cashews) Recipe

Sometimes, when I have a minute, I sit back and think about the world of food, how vast it is, and how many rivers, hills, and valleys still remain uncharted to me. I don’t find the idea overwhelming, far from it. I find it encouraging, I find it promising, I find it comforting: as long as I can read books and move around a kitchen, my life will see no shortage of inspiring ideas, happy discoveries, and exciting projects.

Just this week, I received two emails from readers offering their recipes and knowledge, should I want to explore the cuisines of their home countries (Argentinian and Turkish, no less), and a review copy of the most inspiring book I’ve seen in a while, Moro East, in which practically every page now wears a sticky tag on its lapel.

Muhammara is best made with pomegranate molasses: the sweet and acidic syrup bridges the sweetness of the peppers and the bitter edge of the walnuts.

Another example is this muhammara. I don’t remember how the concept fell into my lap — did I read about it on a website? in a book? — but this Middle-Eastern spread, made from roasted bell peppers and walnuts, appealed to me instantly. It was novel to me, I had never tasted it anywhere, but my mind’s taste buds could barely contain their enthusiasm.

Part of the attraction was the fact that muhammara is best made with pomegranate molasses, a popular ingredient in Lebanese and other Mediterranean cuisines that has become rather trendy of late*. Here, this sweet and acidic syrup is called for to bridge the sweetness of the peppers and the bitter edge of the walnuts.

I, like most suggestible cooks who read magazines, have acquired my very own bottle of pomegranate molasses from Heratchian Frères a few months ago, but a little goes a long way, and I’m always looking for different productions to cast them in. This muhammara is, so far, the unchallenged winner, and I have officially named it my new favorite for a make-ahead apéro spread.

The recipe below is the product of my usual recipe research method (gather-combine-tweak-shake-shake-shake), and the fact that I got confused about the amount of nuts to peppers. This forced me first to use cashews in addition to my too short supply of walnuts (this worked so well I will do the same in the future) and then to roast two additional bell peppers** when I realized my spread was too nutty (yes, there is such a thing; it came as a surprise to me, too).

As a consequence, my first batch yielded way more muhammara than I needed for that one dinner party, but I froze the leftovers in two little tubs that I whipped back out on two subsequent occasions, with no loss of flavor and to just as much acclaim, so I wholeheartedly recommend that modus operandi. One sleeps so much more soundly with an emergency dose of muhammara in the freezer.

The most typical way of serving muhammara is with pitas or lavash, but it is just as good on sliced baguette, and it is an absolute delight plopped onto thickish slices of cucumber.

* Pomegranate molasses, sometimes called pomegranate syrup (mélasse de grenade or mélasse de pomme de grenade in French), can be found in Middle-Eastern stores (get some zaatar while you’re at it). In France, it is most often imported from Lebanon. If you can’t find it, The Cook’s Thesaurus suggests various substitutions; for this recipe, balsamic vinegar seems the most appropriate.

** On the subject of bell peppers, I’d like to share my latest epiphany. You know how slimy roasted bell peppers are, and how annoying it is to remove the little seeds once they’re embedded in the slime? Well, what I do now is deseed the peppers before roasting — I know, how revolutionary. While the peppers are still raw, I carve all around the stem, pull it out, and discard the seeds that come with it. Then I hold the peppers upside down, and slap them a few times on the sides so the remaining seeds fall out (plus, the sound is fun). The bell peppers, thus decapitated and gutted, are then submitted to my regular roasting procedure in the oven.

Muhammara Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Makes about 2 cups.

Muhammara Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2.2 pounds) red bell peppers, about 5 medium-large ones, firm and unwrinkled
  • 130 grams (1 1/3 cups) walnuts
  • 130 grams (1 cup) shelled cashews (unsalted)
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked salt (or regular salt + smoked paprika)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chili pepper or more, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, germ removed if any
  • 2 teaspoons walnut or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (substitute balsamic vinegar)

Instructions

  1. Roast, peel, and deseed the bell peppers using your favorite method (if you need guidance, see tip above and instructions here). Let cool completely.
  2. Toast the walnuts, cashews, and cumin seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant. Let cool.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the flesh of the bell peppers with the rest of the ingredients, from walnuts to pomegranate molasses, and purée until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl regularly. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and refrigerate until ready to serve (see note).
  4. Assemble cucumber canapés by spreading muhammara onto rounds of unpeeled cucumber (one teaspoon per round), or serve with fresh pitas, lavash, or baguette.

Notes

  • Muhammara is best made a day ahead.
  • What you won't use immediately you can freeze in a freezer-safe container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the muhammara (to prevent the formation of water crystals), close the container tightly, and freeze. To thaw, just pop back in the fridge the night before.

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  • http://www.spacekadet.org monica

    THANK YOU for posting this. I discovered pomegranate syrup thanks to Acili Ezme, a spicy tomato and parsley salsa. I am fortunate to live in a Turkish neighborhood in London, where every other shop stocks all the essentials. When I first went looking for pomegranate syrup, I had to ask the shop owner; no wonder I missed it – it was labeled with its Turkish name, Nar Eksili.

    Now, I’m so glad I asked. And I have a wonderful new recipe to add to my pomegranate lexicon. =) Thank you!

  • http://schnuppensuppe.de/blog/ rosa

    In Turkish, the pomegranate syrup is called “nar eksişi” – a few months ago there was a bit of a craze in German foodblogs about it.
    It’s not too hard to find in Germany: Most Turkish foodshops (and there is at least one in any middle-sized town here :) ) carry it.

    Recipe sounds great! If only I could overcome my fear against peeling roasted peppers… (I tried twice: Didn’t work too well and was a huge mess)

  • http://www.rosas-yummy-yums.blogspot.com Rosa

    I love that recipe! I bet this Muhammara tastes gorgeous on homemade crackers or with endives…

  • http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    Roasted bell pepper caviar sounds so exotic, but this looks delicious. Peppers and nuts, yum. I’d probably garnish it with a little hot pepper oil.

  • http://www.columbiafoodie.blogspot.com Sara/columbiafoodie

    I love it! I made something similar to this but did not use walnuts, and they would be a perfect addition. Just sweet enough but creamy and decadent!

  • http://gregcooks.blogspot.com Greg

    Thank you, thank you. I now know what I will be taking to my party on Saturday.

  • http://paninigirl.wordpress.com janie

    Great advice on de-seeding the pepper! I’m going to try it next time.

  • Elizabeth

    The book sounds great, so thanks for the recommendation!

    For those who might not have access to pomegranate molasses, I’d recommend making it yourself. It’s easiest to do if you can find pomegranate juice to reduce slowly with sugar, though you’ll also find recipes online for making it from the fruit itself.

    My supply was made a couple of years ago thanks to a recipe found in Paula Wolfert’s amazing book on the Eastern Mediterranean. When looking for the recipe online, I stumbled on this, instead, and thought readers might be interested in comparing her muhammara to the recipe here at C&Z:

    Here are instructions for making the molasses from pomegranates.

  • http://proofofthepudding.wordpress.com Dana

    You’re right, I’ve been seeing pomegranate molasses everywhere lately! This looks like a delicious way to use it :).

  • http://www.xanga.com/chef_kayenne kayenne

    how should smoked salt differ in taste from regular sea salt? i recently got a bag of smoked sea salt from sempio(korean product) and i’m still trying to acclimate my buds to taste the difference – or am i just not tasting enough granules?

  • http://apricotsandthyme.blogspot.com Seta

    mmmm..muhammara. it is so full of flavors and texture. but i never thougt of putting cashews in it. great idea and it’s bound to cut down on the burning of the roof of the mouth from walnuts. can’t wait to try your recipe and compare it to the ones I grew up.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Monica – Thanks for the link to the Acili Ezme, it looks good, and I’m filing it for next summer.

    Rosa – Endive leaves would work very well indeed, that’s an excellent idea.

    Kayenne – The smoked salt I work with (Halen Môn, made by the Anglesey Sea Salt Company) has a very clear smoked flavor — you would smell/taste the difference instantly — and just a little is enough to come through in a preparation like this one. I imagine yours is very subtly smoked?

  • Jeff Nosanov

    That sounds fantastic. Also great is Labne, which is a sort of milk/yogurt/cream cheesey type of spread. Not sure if it’s from the middle east or if that’s just part of the marketing, but it sure is tasty and for me it totally replaces cream cheese, mayo, etc.

  • eileen

    mmmmm, thanks for this, especially as we busy people seek something for our freezers.
    on other links, merci for the heads-up on Pimenton de la Vera. Indescribable. added tonight to a veggie-marsala-type sauce, and it was positively addictive.
    cheers

  • http://tascadaelvira.blogspot.com/ Elvira

    Félicitations pour ton superbe livre! :-)

    Tu dois être au courant, je pense, mais le beau magazine irlandais Intermezzo (nº3) que j’ai acheté là-bas y a consacré un bel article.

    Bises du Portugal.

  • http://bretzeletcafecreme.blogspot.com/ Flo Bretzel

    I discover this recipe and I will definitively try it in a few days
    I hope I will find everything I need in Munich

  • Alisa

    oh yum!

  • http://www.latartinegourmande.com/ bea at La tartine gourmande

    I like the way you describe the vastness of the food world. So true, and overwhelming at times.
    Lovely inspiring recipe. I have one open bottle of pomegranate molasses that I almost forgot about. Good timing!

  • sylvia

    Pomegranite MOlasses – another great use is in Fesunjun which is a persian dish. Persian food often has a sweet and savory aspect combined. Anyway the Fesunjun can be made with chicken or duck and walnuts and you will use up quite alot of that molasses.
    Thanks for the blog.

  • http://desertcandy.blogspot.com Mercedes

    As a resident of the Middle East, I’ll admit both the cashews and the name caviar make me twitch, but I heartily agree muhammara is good stuff. It is also excellent spread on pizza-like flatbreads or tossed on pasta. Since muhammara is a specialty of Aleppo, it’s really worth it to seek out that special Aleppo pepper (like a subtly spicy-sweet-smoky pepper) to make it.

    To the person who wrote about labne, it’s simply very thick drained yogurt. Like Greek-style yogurt, but drained even more to be even thicker. Also wonderful.

  • http://www.sugarlaws.com sugarlaws

    Oh yum!!! Looks amazing.

  • http://www.wickedgooddinner.com Wicked Good Dinner

    This sounds wonderful! I’ve made something similar with sun dried tomatoes, but can’t wait to try with roasted peppers!

  • Micki

    Hello Clotide! in a few weeks I unfortunately have to return to the us after studying abroad in paris, and i’m trying to collect some necessary food goodies to bring back. i’ve already picked up some nougat, christine ferber jam, and was planning on some vinegar and olive oil. i was wondering if you had any suggestions as to other great things to bring back? thanks!

  • Jean

    Muhammara is delicious! I made some for a middle eastern dinner party just last week to great acclaim. The Claudia Roden version is excellent, but not quite as rich as some other version I have tried because it uses wholegrain bread as well as nuts to thicken it.

    A substitution tip – I find the jars of whole roasted red peppers you find in middle eastern shops to be a fantastic substitute for fresh ones at times when you can only get expensive or wrinkly ones (or when you just want to speed the whole process up).

  • http://swirlandscramble.blogspot.com Marianna

    Wow, this is something that my entire family makes (I have middle eastern origins). Actually, I had loads of this last night- it is addictive! We’ve never used cashews though (just walnuts). And pomegranate molasses is a MUST!!

  • http://www.bounteous-bites.blogspot.com Evelin

    Sounds so delicious! I especially love the addition of cashew nuts.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    This looks terrific – I’m bookmarking this on my list of recipes to try – for sure! As soon as I read bell pepper spread with walnuts and cashews – I knew I would love it too!

  • http://www.annmah.net Ann

    I love this dip — I’ve made it without the pomegranate molasses. My husband — who lived in Turkmenistan for two years — says one bite immediately takes him back to Central Asia.

    Thank you for the cucumber serving suggestion — great idea!

  • Nivedita

    Hi Clotilde,

    Good to know that Muhammara can be frozen without loss of flavor. I made it when my parents were visiting from India and they didn’t share my enthusiasm for it. Amidst all the cooking and eating that was happening, I forgot that it was in the fridge for over a month – lost it to mold. :( And yup, I agree that making a small batch doesn’t make sense, though given the intensity and richness, that is all one needs.
    You know, I subscribe to your blog through Google Reader and often I get your posts twice. Dunno why that happens. Has anyone else mentioned this or is this happening only to me?

  • http://bluekitchen.wordpress.com Terry B

    Look at the wonderful world the Internet has created! I’m sitting here in Chicago, being introduced to a delicious sounding Middle Eastern appetizer by a cook in Paris. I think that’s pretty cool. Oh, and I too love the sound of thumping on a hollow bell pepper, Clotilde.

  • http://www.swirlingnotions.com swirlingnotions

    Ironically, I have a bottle of pomegranate molasses in the cupboard and smoked salt on the shelf, and I’ve always been a big fan of muhammara . . . I’ve just never given it a try. I guess now I’ll have to. Thanks, Clotilde!

    By the way, I’m just starting to wrap all those books I bought at your Healdsburg book-signing for Christmas gifts. What fun!

  • marie

    this is a little unrelated, but deserves to be mentioned! I just baked your yogurt scones, adding three fresh apricots chopped and a tsp of grated nutmeg (in place of the nuts/ dried fruit).
    Topped with fresh ricotta and a grate of nutmeg they are really beautiful! you must try it, although you may have to wait till summer.. i could post you one, but they do like to be warm
    x joyeux noel

  • R.F.

    I will try this recipe, which seems to be more complex than two other versions I have made previously. My Lebanese and Syrian friends mentioned that they grew up eating mouhamara that was more “watery” than the ones described in recipes obtained from various cooking websites. Excellent book, by the way. I enjoyed reading every page. It was very personal. I felt like we were just chatting about food and recipes over a cup of tea.

  • Dory

    I love muhammara at a Syrian restaurant I go to. I hadn’t had a recipe. I will definitely try it at home. I have pomegranite molasses on a shelf next to my stove. I have been adding a little to the cooking water when I have been making pot roasts– such as a braised brisket. The smell while the roast is cooking is incredible. It does not give an overwhelming flavor to the meat, although I am pretty reserved with the amount I use. However, it adds a little undefinable fragrance which is very nice. Even my husband who is timid about sweet/savory combinations likes it.

    We can buy fresh pre-roasted red peppers locally. I am not that fond of cooking “shortcuts” but may be willing to try that one.

    I love this blog!

    Dory

  • http://konstliv.blogspot.com/ Mats Flemstrom

    I’ve tried to find a good use for my bottle of pomegranate molasses without success until now; thank you very much for this post.
    Mats

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Cath

    Oh, what a great idea to use other nuts! I’ve never made muhammara because my bloke is extremely averse to walnuts. I may try it with all cashews. My apologies to any wincing middle eatsern people. Our keyword here for any naughty cross cultural mix-ups is “fusion cuisine”!

    And I am so excited that I’m about to get a new icecream machine, and your chocolate sorbet WILL be the first run.

  • celia

    Hi Clotilde,
    I enjoy your blog which has inspired me to start my own food blog in upstate New York called: http://www.fingerlakesfeasting.com. I have a great Turkish recipe using pomegranate syrup that I got from Food and Wine magazine. It is an eggplant and lentil stew. Celia

  • http://gregcooks.blogspot.com Greg

    Thanks again. I did make this for my party last night. It was a big hit and it turned out just as delicious as you described.

  • http://fattymcbeanpole.blogspot.com/ Jess

    God, this looks good. I have been lurking on your blog for a while, and I have to say, you’re one of my favourite bloggers.

  • http://www.moroccanmaryam.typepad.com maryam in marrakech

    mmmmm….muhammara:-) And yes, nothing like having a safety stash for a dinner party. You clever girl!

  • Prashant

    This was fantastic. We made it yesterday with a mix of red and yellow peppers. We upped the lemon juice slightly and it gives a nice tang to it. We also threw in a little extra garlic and used dried red chili powder which is easily available here in India. It tasted fantastic both on fresh rotis as well as some rosemary crackers.

    BTW, we blended all the ingredients and then added the nuts and cumin. The mixture before adding the nuts also makes a wonderful and tangy dip.

  • Stephane

    Hi-

    My mom’s best friend is lebanese and she taught us a very different version of muhammara, made with hot peppers.

    I have tried both versions, with red bell peppers and with hot peppers, and have to say that I much prefer the hot recipe. It’s not as obviously sweet as the other one. It also has a bit more of a kick with the extra heat!

    Now this makes me wonder which version is the more authentic one. My research online seemed to be saying that the red bell pepper is the right one.Have I been misled all this time by my mom’s friend?

  • itir

    Recently, a blogger wished muhammara was on the menu for “his last meal on earth.” Check out the post.
    What Cafe Fernando calls the “walnut and pepper spread” in the picture is muhammara.

    itir.

  • http://robinheather.typepad.com/go Robin

    I often get a little addled with excitement thinking about how much more I have to learn about food, how many recipes there are to work through! This one looks great, and I can’t wait to try it.

  • Vividcat

    I made this on Thursday night (for a friends party on Saturday) but didn’t have the molasses at home, but could add it at work since it was something we sold. I tried it without the molasses, and then my boss tried it and there was nothing nice I could particularly say about it but after the molasses was added it was a completely different dish…amazing. I am looking forward to trying it again when I get to my friends house this afternoon as it would have sat for the night with all those flavours blending beautifully. By the way I find the whole roasting capsicum thing rather interesting, even sensual, if peeling the skin off a roasted vegetable can be sensual.

  • http://skinnygourmet.blogspot.com Erin

    This recipe looks fantastic. I love dips that go beyond the usual, and the syrup certainly seems an interesting addition. I’m spoiled for Lebanese food right now thanks to all the large Lebanese immigrant population in Ghana. I’ll definitely try this the next time I can get my hands on red peppers

  • Elizabeth

    Postscript: I, too, was inspired to whip up a batch of muhammara after reading this enthusiastic entry. It really is worth it to prepare the dish the night before, though it’s perfectly fine the day it is prepared. The flavor deepens beautifully.

    I followed Clotilde’s brilliant kitchen tip and seeded the peppers before popping them under the broiler. What a time-saver!

    In gratitude, let me share something I learned from one of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks: Before toasting walnuts, boil a pot of water. Throw the walnut pieces in the boiling water for a minute. Drain. Spread the walnuts on a bare baking sheet and toast in a slow oven (300 F) for 30 minutes, checking after 20 and 25 minutes to make sure they darken without turning bitter. The minute spent in the water enhances both texture and flavor.
    * * *
    Powdered sumac complements pomegranate molasses beautifully, so I added some to the food processor. I also sprinkled the dish with a mixture of sumac & cumin (4:1), chopped, skinned pistachios and fresh pomegranate seeds to suit the time of year.

    Excellent thing to contribute to dinner parties, so thanks for that observation, too!

  • pasc

    Oh, I’m so glad you wrote about this! My mom makes it all the time, and it was only until recently that I started to love it!

  • Janine

    Have you tried chocolate on rice? Powdered or syrup, I love it. And thanks for the recipe, it’s a new twist for the kids rather than munching on chips and dips.

  • Dory

    I LOVE sumac. I have to add it to the muhammara. I will probably sprinkle it on top to add to the red color. I am thinking Christmas with my family. That is actually not so culturally inappropriate since many Lebanese are Christian. My family is now addicted to Syrian food because of a particularly good Syrian restaurant near where my parents live. They make muhammara too.

    Dory

  • http://www.xanga.com/lavndrmlkshake Susan

    I just made this for dinner tonight and it is so delicious and easy! I had previously thought that one needed to have a gas stove to do roasted bell peppers, so this was my first time doing that (in an electric oven, no less) as well!

  • http://vegeyum.wordpress.com VegeYum

    This sounds so good. Healthy and yummy.

  • msue

    This was a big hit in this household. Thanks for the introduction to pomegranate molasses. It will be fun trying it in other dishes, thanks to the suggestions of previous commenters.

    The muhammara will join the appetizers at our little New Year’s eve festivity. Cucumber, sliced carrots, and endive to hold the muhammara is particularly clever. We always have fondue for NYE, so the veggies in the appetizer course will be very welcome.

  • http://foodandlaughter.blogspot.com Bird’s Eye View

    I love muhammara and can quite easily devour it all by itself….though I’ve only ever made it with pine nuts.

  • Angelo Trivelli

    Thank you Clotide!

    This recipe was really excellent.

    Although I could not find Pomegranite Molasses, I was able to make it by simmering pomegranite juice, sugar and lemon juice. I reduced it to a 1/2 cup of syrup from 4 cups of juice.

  • Alice

    I made it with pistachios instead of cashews. I also used a cherry balsalmic vinegar I made using cherry pits and stems. Wonderful!

  • Antonietta

    Easy way to roast and peel bell peppers taught to me by my mother (who learned from my grandmother).

    Wash bell peppers, while roasting (time depends on the size and meatiness of pepper) turn bell peppers around so that all gets roasted. When fully blistered, take out of the oven and place in a pot sprinkling salt all over the peppers cover pot with lid and let cool. Once cooled it will be a sinch to peel – start by holding the stem and pulling it out and then you can swoop away any remaining seeds and peel away the skin easily.

  • Noreen

    I made this for my mother’s birthday party and had enough left over to freeze for another occasion. Took it out this week when I hosted my bookclub and it got rave reviews! I’m printing this blog entry for several club members who asked for the recipe.

  • steve

    I have eaten muhammara here in London, where it has a name “Anatolian breakfast” its fantastic on toast or any toasted flatbreads. I have wanted to make it myself and will try your recipe here.
    On the Pomegranate molasses, it is known as Nar Pekmezi, and the Pomegranate Syrup is known as Nar eksişi, there is a difference. I use the syrup to make a salad dressing as it is quite sharp (like lemon juice) but has a nice fruitiness to it.

  • andrea

    whoever you are, you are going to heaven. i have been looking to make muhammara for a long time. i am from the midwest, but i travel to syria quite frequently, and i *live* on this. it’s the best thing in the world. and i just finished making your recipe, and it’s the closest to syrian i’ve ever had. thank you thank you thank you!

  • http://beaualalouche.canalblog.com loukoum°°°

    Testé et complètement approuvé!
    Merci pour la découverte totale, je ne soupçonnais pas du tout l’existence du muhammara!

  • http://erkehan.blogspot.com/ neslihan

    thank you:))
    I’m a Turkish blogger. when i see “muhammara” on your website i am very happy =)

  • Liz Thomas

    Don’t know if comments are still open on this page but I made muhammara yesterday (I make it often) for my lunch party on Saturday (have frozen it) and just wanted to say that the tips about soaking the walnuts in boiling water, and the sprinkling the peppers with salt really work. I have never peeled peppers so easily!

    And, Clotilde — I’m so glad you like Halen Mon! I am originally from Anglesey and I am probably one of the first people to have ever bought salt from them when they started in what was little more than a shack attached to the Anglesey sea zoo (worth visiting if you are ever there!) They are now world famous, even Barack Obama likes their chocolate! The products are pricey but ever so good.

    Cheers!
    Liz

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks for reporting back Liz! And I hope I get to go to Anglesey someday and visit that sea zoo with a box of chocolate in my hand. :)

  • SP

    Hi! Any chance that this would work with GREEN bell peppers?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      The flavor would be different (and in my opinion, not quite as good, but then I’m not crazy about green bell peppers) but yes, the recipe would work.

  • Gastronomisti

    When substituting pomegranate molasses for balsamic vinegar, first reduce the vinegar, or mix with a fruit jam such as grape, mulberry or blackberry.

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