Often found as part of a meze, Muhammara (Moo-hum-mara) originated in Aleppo, Syria, which is known for its wondrous red chili peppers. Like most dishes that have been around since before the reign of cookbooks and measuring cups, Muhammara is made in about as many ways as there are cooks who make it. Most recipes use a base of breadcrumbs and walnuts, but some versions use bulgur, while others omit the breadcrumbs and rely solely on walnuts.
Having come from a town with a pepper named after it, it's no surprise that the key ingredient in Muhammara is chili peppers. Both fiery and fruity, Aleppo Peppers come in at around 6,000-15,000 Scoville Heat Units putting them above Hungarian hot paprika (100-500 SHU), but below Cayenne (35,000-55,000SHU) in terms of spiciness. Some preparations call for fresh Aleppo peppers, while others use the peppers dried and ground into a powder, still others call for the peppers to be roasted.
I learned how to make Muhammara from a Syrian chef that kept a large glass mason jar full of chili paste made from Aleppo peppers. In his version, the fiery chili paste is added by the spoonful, which not only brings the heat, it adds a wonderful earthy flavor that's brimming with umami.
The chili paste is made by lightly withering the peppers under the sun before mincing them and throwing them into a jar along with salt and a little olive oil. The jars are then left out in the sun to ferment, which is why the paste is so flavorful. The process is not unlike the process used to make Asian chili pastes such as sambal oelek (which contains a little vinegar) and doubanjiang (which contains fermented fava beans). That's why these make pretty good substitutes if you're not able to find the Syrian version near you.
For my take on Muhammara, I like to add both chili paste and fresh peppers. The fresh peppers lends a sweet fruity flavor, while the chili paste adds heat and depth. By soaking the breadcrumbs in the olive oil and tahini overnight, they fully absorb the oil, giving the spread a creamier texture while allowing the crumbs to retain a better texture. For the walnuts, I like roasting them first to bring out their full flavor, and then I grind them down to about the same texture as the breadcrumbs. If you want your Muhammara more chunky you can just chop them by hand.
Finally, the pomegranate molasses brings both tartness and sweetness to the party, which is all rounded out by a bit of tomato paste to help pull everything together. When all is said and done, you have a spread that's delicious slathered on bread and in sandwiches, but also makes for a delightful dip to go along with a platter of vegetables such as peppers, sweet onions and cucumbers.
- 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons tahini
- ½ cup walnuts (60 grams)
- 270 grams red bell peppers (2 small peppers)
- ⅛ small red onion
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon Syrian chili paste (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl along with the olive oil and tahini, stir to combine, then cover and leave it at room temperature overnight for the oil to soak into the breadcrumbs.
- The next day, roast the walnuts on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven until golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Add the walnuts to a food processor and pulse until they're about the texture of the breadcrumbs. Add the walnuts to the breadcrumbs.
- Remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and then roughly chop. Add the peppers to the food processor along with the onion, chili paste and tomato paste. Pulse until the peppers and onions are finely minced but not fully pureed.
- Add the pepper mixture along with the pomegranate molasses, cumin and salt to the breadcrumbs. Stir the mixture to combine. Adjust the pomegranate molasses and salt to taste.
- To serve, spread the muhammara in a plate or shallow bowl. Make a swirl pattern on top and drizzle with olive oil.
Love this recipe for a unique dip! Something to add to my repertoire besides salsa, hummus and guacamole...
Hi Marc, how long do you leave the chilies to ferment when making the chili paste? I would love to make some myself. If possible, could you post the full recipe?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Dom, it depends on how hot the place is where your fermenting but anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Be sure you use enough salt to prevent spoiling. As for a recipe, I'll add it to the list of requests but no guarantees if/when I can do it. —
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This sounds divine...I'm wondering if harissa might be a good substitute for the chili paste if I can't find the Syrian version...or would Sambal be a safer/more nuetral bet? Thanks for all of your wonderful recipes!
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Emma, sambal would be a closer substitute and 1:1 replacement, but Harissa might be interesting. If you try it let us know how it goes:-)
Loved the Muhammara recipe.
I changed things up a bit though to make it into a supper.
I fried a package of ground beef with the pomegranate molasses. After the beef browned I added Oceans tomatoe sauce and a package of garlic chili sauce. Cooked it a few minutes. Then
Put it aside and used my food processor to make the Muhammara recipe. I omitted the oil and used pine nuts instead. Then mixed it in with the beef.
Boiled some macaroni til done. Then mixed the macaroni in with the beef mixture.
Then Voila, I was told the supper was the bomb, excellent. Thank you so much
Sam Walker says
Great recipe. Got it exactly the way I wanted. Smooth, creamy paste with just the perfect saltiness and chilli. Thanks. I have bought it a few times, but made it today the first time. And it was just perfect. Tried it with cut cucumber and wow, the cucumber simply tasted different!