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.
- 4 large red peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
- 2 cups of pecans or walnuts, finely chopped
- 1 cup of stale bread cut into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1/2 of a small red onion, if you like and aren’t making this in advance
- 1 handful of chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons of nar ekşisi
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil; use more or less as needed
Spread some olive oil on a roasting pan and roast the peppers in a 450°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the skins are blackened and the flesh offers no resistance to a knife. You can also roast the peppers whole over a gas stove.
When the peppers have cooled enough to handle, remove most of the blackened skins, but leave some on if you like for a charred flavor. Roughly dice the peppers, then transfer them to a large cutting board with the other dry ingredients. Run across it all with a sharp knife until you have a slightly cohesive mass with chunks smaller than peas. Don’t over-mince. You can do this in a food processor, but go with brief pulses and the understanding that you may have to do the last bit of mincing by hand.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the nar ekşisi and salt to taste. Drizzle in enough olive oil to make a cohesive mass. Let the bread soak in the juices for a couple minutes, then serve.