Serious Eats: Recipes

Mediterranean Flavors: Roasted Red Pepper Spread

[Photograph: Max Falkowtiz]

My first meal in Turkey began with a chunky mush. Glossy brown with flecks of red and green, it didn't look that appetizing, but I figured the Turks knew what they were doing. After a tentative first spoonful, the rest was quickly devoured along with some fresh-from-the-oven flatbread. After more than a week of sampling Turkey's gustatory cornucopia, nothing felt so emblematic of the country as this spread.

I was later told I had eaten muhammara, a spread composed of roasted red peppers and walnuts. It's soaked and bound with a healthy amount of olive oil and nar ekşisi, pomegranate juice reduced to a thick syrup. It's tart, sweet, and rich—a salad dressing all on its own. Surprisingly affordable and versatile, it demands inclusion in your pantry. Kick out a vinegar if you have to.

Unlike most red pepper dips, where the flavor tends towards monotone, muhammara is a balance of sweetness, nuttiness, and acidity. The peppers themselves are roasted to a deep, luscious sweetness—even lame, early-summer specimens serve well. A large dose of parsley is a welcome addition, as is some red onion (though if it's not salted first, the onion will get bitter over time).

My version swaps pecans for the traditional walnuts out of personal preference, and adds in a little stale bread to help bind the dip.

Texture is the real challenge, though. You may be tempted to build this in the food processor, but far too often I've had it turn my delicately chunky mixtures into insipid pastes. I rely on a sharp knife (a cleaver, actually, I find perfect for this) and a little patience. Mince your ingredients together, then add enough olive oil and nar ekşisi to make the spread sit easily on a pita chip. Or finely chop all the ingredients but don't mince them when they're all combined. Wipe your hands and call it a bread salad. This serves well as both.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is a proud native of Queens, New York. He'll do just about anything for a good cup of tea and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.

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