MUHAMMARA WITH ZA’ATAR DUSTED PITA CHIPS
If you are any kind of home cook, chances are you’ve made your own hummus at least once – a can of garbanzo beans, some tahini, a little garlic and lemon juice and you’re set. Those of us who are a bit more adventurous in the kitchen may have even attempted making our own baba ghanoush; the other ubiquitous Middle Eastern dip now found on the shelves of nearly every major grocery store. Considering the overwhelming popularity and mainstream appeal of these healthful dishes, I will never cease to be amazed that more people haven’t heard of muhammara – let alone tried it.
Popular throughout Syria, Turkey and Lebanon this delicious paste of walnuts, breadcrumbs and roasted red peppers is certainly a taste combination you must try. Savory, sweet and a little spicy, the distinctly flavored dip gets much of its unique character from the intense sour flavor of pomegranate molasses. Like hummus, muhammara has a taste and texture that belies it’s dairy-free blend. Here, walnuts give the dip a rich, creamy consistency while roasted red bell peppers lend the dish it’s beautiful brick red color.
Served with crispy, homemade za’atar dusted pita chips and you have an appetizer so good you’ll be kicking yourself for having never tried it until now. Who knows, maybe we’ll be seeing fourteen different brands of muhammara lining our grocery store shelves in the near future.
For maximum flavor, make sure to lightly toast the walnuts before adding them to the food processor as this will help intensify their nuttiness. Pomegranate molasses is available at almost every Middle Eastern grocery store and can even be found at some well stocked supermarkets. Any of the flavor components in this recipe can be adjusted to fit your own taste. If you want more acid, add more lemon. If you like things spicy, go heavy on the dried chile. I used the traditional ground aleppo chile from Syria in this recipe, however red chile flakes or ground cayenne would be fine, albeit less authentic substitutes. If you are planning on making the za’atar dusted pita chips and can’t find any of the aromatic blend at the store, you can make your own by mixing one part dried oregano, one part dried thyme, one part ground sumac with one half part sesame seeds.
- 1 thick slice whole grain or wheat bread
- 1 cup walnuts
- 3 large roasted red bell peppers (jarred are fine)
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1-2 large pinches ground aleppo chile pepper or a mixture of sweet paprika and cayenne to taste
- 1 teaspoon table salt, or more to taste
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Toast the bread slice in an oven that has been preheated to 350° until it is dry and no longer soft in the middle, about 5-7 minutes. Tear the toasted bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until you have rough breadcrumbs. You should have close to 1 cup.
- Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and roast in the same 350° oven until they have taken on some color and begin to smell aromatic, about 5-10 minutes.
- Place the roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, breadcrumbs and garlic in the food processor and pulse a few times to just barely combine. Add the pomegranate molasses, cumin, chile, salt and lemon juice and turn on the processor. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while the machine is running to emulsify the paste and bring everything together.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning. Allow the mixture to rest for at least a half an hour before serving. Serve at room temperature with za’atar dusted pita chips.
Makes about 2 cups
ZA’ATAR DUSTED PITA CHIPS
- 4 large pieces of pita bread
- Olive oil for brushing
- Kosher salt for seasoning
- Za’atar spice blend for sprinkling
- Using a sharp knife, cut the piece of pita into triangle no larger than an ordinary tortilla chip.
- Place the pita triangles on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle on kosher salt to taste and a healthy pinch of za’atar blend on each triangle.
- Bake the pita in a preheated 375° oven until golden brown and crispy, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and allow to cool slightly before serving.