Tuesday, September 8, 2009

mahna mahna


This is muhammara, a Middle Eastern red pepper dip.  More or less.

I didn't have all the traditional ingredients in the house, and even if I did, making authentic muhammara involves more quantum smearing than cooking -- as a dish made slightly differently in different countries, it is subject to the same debate as any other regional dish (pizza, barbecue), in which every version is wrong by someone else's standards and few things are universal and yet somehow all are still recognizably the thing in question.

In this case, I didn't have any walnuts in the house, nor olive oil.  For the walnuts, I substituted Brazil nuts; the nuts are not used in great quantities in this dish anyway.  For the olive oil ... look, every Mediterranean recipe that calls for oil will call for olive oil, unless some gourmet food vendor is trying to sell you some argan oil.  This isn't because of olive oil's superiority.  It's because of its convenience in the Mediterranean.  There are times when substituting will significantly change the dish, times when it won't, and times when a change does not mean the dish will be any worse.

I didn't have olive oil.  I used pecan oil and a little corn oil.

Some versions of muhammara call for bulghur wheat; many recipes in English cookbooks will call for breadcrumbs.  I used cooked wheat berries, which are pretty close to bulghur.

So anyway.  All told, what do we have here?  Roasted red peppers, both sweet and hot; I dried the hot ones (cherry peppers) out in the oven and used them skin and all, while roasting the sweet ones conventionally and peeling them.  A total in volume equivalent to four medium-to-large bell peppers.  About a handful of cooked wheat berries, and an equal amount of roasted Brazil nuts.  A few tablespoons of pecan oil and a drizzle of corn oil.  A few tablespoons of pomegranate molasses.  Whir whir whir in the Cuisinart.

The result is sweet, peppery, tangy, with a little bite.  The flavor will keep developing for a few days, which is good cause I'm almost out of chips and the dip will develop until I pick up some more.

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