blistered peppers

Last Minute Treat for the Holidays

Mhammara: pronounce it muh-HAHM-ra, or just call it Turkish red pepper sauce, anyway you say it this bright and spicy, fragrant sauce or dip is a welcome addition to holiday tables. The best thing about it: it’s delicious. The second best thing: it’s full of healthy ingredients like rich red peppers and crisp walnuts, a dash of olive oil (extra-virgin of course) and a splash of dark-red pomegranate syrup, aka pomegranate molasses.

It’s relatively cheap (cheaper than caviar at least), quick and easy to make—the only time-consuming element is roasting and peeling the peppers. After that it’s just a question of tossing ingredients into a food processor, giving them a quick buzz, and away you go.

You could do it even more quickly if you use the very high quality canned (rather, jarred) roasted red peppers from Spain, but if you fall back on canned peppers, I urge you to blitz them in the processor first, then set them in a fine-mesh sieve to drain. Otherwise, your mhammara may be too thin.

Those in the know might ask why a “Turkish” sauce has an Arabic name. That’s because it comes from southeastern Turkey, northwest Syria, the area between Gaziantep and Aleppo, where plenty of cross-cultural mixing and blending makes for a very exciting cuisine.

Direct from Mount Lebanon, Mymouneh’s pomegranate syrup

Here’s the recipe (from The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook), to be served with toasted triangles of Arab pita bread or crisp raw vegetables, and be sure to spice it up or down, depending on your personal taste:

  • 4 sweet red peppers, roasted until blackened and blistered, then peeled, stems, seeds and white membranes discarded, coarsely chopped
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed with the flat blade of a knife
  • 1 ½ cups walnut halves, very finely chopped
  • ½ cup (or more if necessary) toasted fine breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) ground red Middle Eastern chili pepper, preferably Aleppo or Turkish pepper
  • ½ teaspoon (or more to taste) ground cumin
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • toasted pine nuts for garnish

Measure the chopped peppers—you should have 3 to 4 cups.

In a mortar, pound the garlic to a paste with a big pinch of sea salt, then pound in the walnuts and breadcrumbs. Add the chopped peppers and continue pounding to a paste. Then stir in the chili pepper, cumin, pomegranate syrup, lemon juice, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding another tablespoon of oil if the mix is too dry, or more breadcrumbs if too liquid.

If you use a food processor, start by processing the peppers with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Add the walnuts, breadcrumbs, and chili pepper and pulse to a granular mixture—not too smooth, it should have a certain amount of texture. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cumin, pomegrnate syrup, and lemon juice. Finally add the oil and stir it in, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

Heap the finished sauce in a bowl and garnish with toasted pine nuts.

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