Visions of Cairo: Smokey Muhammara

Cairo at dusk

One of the dishes that I have not been able to find nor replicate since returning from Cairo two summers ago was Muhammara, a spicy red pepper walnut dip that I had during my first week there. The smoky, spicy, vibrantly rich flavor brought on by the combination of spices, nuts, and charred peppers is hard to replicate and even more difficult to perfect. However, I found this recipe the other day on Tastespotting (love them!) and from the first bite I was instantly transported to my seat along the Nile River with my cohort of Arabic language students. It was simplistic, yet perfection. The consistency ranges from smooth and creamy to sloppy-joe-esque, depending on how long you can keep it in your blender before diving in for a bite. Originally from The Split Pea, here’s the best recipe for Muhammara I have sampled:

Smokey Muhammara

Muhammara freezes well in freezer containers. Just remember to cover the surface with either wax paper or plastic wrap to prevent ice crystals from forming. It tastes even better then next day.

Ingredients:

3 red bell peppers
1 cup of walnuts

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¾ cup of pecans
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground Chipotle Chile powder
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1-3 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon of honey
2 -3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (substitute balsamic vinegar)

For serving:
1 fresh baguette, thinly sliced (or pita bread cut into triangles), lightly toasted (I prefer pita!)
1 English cucumber, cut into ¼ inch thick and 3 inch long sticks
Celery sticks
Carrot sticks

Preparation:

-Preheat oven to 350 F.
-Roast peppers. Here are instructions from www.epicurious.com on roasting pepper methods:

To roast peppers:
Using a long-handled fork char the peppers over an open flame, turning them, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the skins are blackened. (Or broil the peppers on a rack of a broiler pan under a preheated broiler about 2 inches from the heat, turning them every 5 minutes, for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the skins are blistered and charred.) Transfer the peppers to a bowl and let them steam, covered, until they are cool enough to handle. Keeping the peppers whole, peel them starting at the blossom end, cut off the tops, and discard the seeds and ribs. (Wear rubber gloves when handling chilies.)

-Place the walnuts and pecans in a rimmed cookie sheet and toast for about 3-5 minutes until fragrant (oven temperatures vary, so make sure to keep an eye on them). In order to prevent the burning of the nuts, leave one nut half on the counter as a reminder that you have nuts in the oven, or set an oven timer. Let the nuts cool.
-In a food processor place peeled and de-seeded red bell peppers with all of the ingredients. Puree until smooth, scraping the sides of the food processor if the mixture keeps sticking. If the dip seems too thick, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
-Taste and adjust* the seasoning. Refrigerate until muhammara is completely cooled.

*If it tastes too hot, add more lemon juice. If it is not sweet enough, add more honey, and, of course, add more salt if it needs it.

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