From my new book Nuts in the Kitchen.
I ate this marvelous mixture in southeast Turkey every chance I got, which was often for it is served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, always accompanied by the region’s pillowy bread. What I learned in Turkey was that each cook worth his or her salt has their personal recipe for Muhammara, of which they are extremely proud. Some versions are spicy, some are sweeter than others, all are ripe and full with the flavor of the regions’ special bell-shaped peppers, and crisp, buttery walnuts.
I fell in love with Muhammara, and this recipe is an adaptation of one I enjoyed from the hands of Sermin Ocak, the recognized matron of gastronomy in the city of Gaziantep. Mrs. Sermin was asked by the mayor of Gaziantep to prepare me a meal of all the regions’ favorite dishes, and this was among the first (of dozens) she served. To make her vivid red version, Mrs. Sermin uses her own dried peppers which she reconstitutes overnight in water, then grinds to a paste. The result of her care is Muhammara that sings with the flavor—and the culture and the wealth—of Gaziantep.
On my last morning in Gaziantep my host, Filiz Hosokuglu, served her mother’s version of Muhammara. Darker red than this version, it was heartier in flavor but equally smooth and delicious. We ate it on fresh bread, along with a steaming bowl of coffee. MMMM….!
When I serve Muhammara now, I offer it as an appetizer along with raw vegetables and fresh bread. It is also wonderful to spread on pizza dough then bake and garnish with extra-virgin olive oil.
NOTE: Muhammara keeps well in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for at least one week.
- 1-½ pounds (750g; 3 large; 5 small) red bell peppers
1-¾ cups (175g) walnuts
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ cup (60g) fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarsely ground red Aleppo pepper or mild paprika
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted, coarsely ground
Fine sea salt, to taste
- Roast the peppers over a gas flame, over coals, or under a broiler, turning the peppers with tongs, until they are completely charred. Transfer the peppers to a paper bag and seal it. Let the peppers sit until they are cool enough to handle—at least 15 minutes—then slip off the charred skin, and remove the seeds from the interior. Don’t rinse the peppers, for you will rinse away a great deal of flavor. Instead, to completely cleanse the peppers of their charred skin and seeds, scrape them gently with a plastic scraper, or the back of a sharp knife blade then wipe them with a cotton towel.
- Place the walnuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and pulse several times until they are coarsely ground. Add the peppers and pulse several times. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add all of the remaining ingredients and process into a coarse paste, scraping down the processor from time to time. Season to taste with salt. Serve it immediately.
Generous 2 cups (500g)