Lebanese Cuisine Basics: Muhammara

Wow, that took a long time! Sorry for the delay, folks, but here it is - the all new Olive Fig Grape layout! I went through a number of templates before I arrived at the one that seemed to fit best. Now we can finally get back to talking about Lebanese cuisine. A particular issue for me in my first 50 posts is that I didn't blog about enough of the basics. I don't mean how to hold a knife and how not to squeeze lemon juice in your eye but rather what constitutes the basic layout of a Lebanese table at dinner time.

A concept closely related to Lebanese cuisine is the idea of Mezze - a range of shared dishes served with the aim of inspiring congeniality and allowing for multiple tastes and sensations to be experienced (not unlike tapas, pintxos and all their long-lost cousins). Mezze is a quintessentially Lebanese concept - open your home and (more accurately) kitchen to friends, family, neighbours and whoever else because that is the essence of hospitality and the height of social interaction. Mezze platters usually consist of dishes such as batata harra, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and the like. Sometimes it strays into something more adventurous including things like bastirma, sujuk and one of my personal favourites muhammara. Sure, muhammara isn't technically a Lebanese creation but like much of the cuisine of the Levant, culture and identity overlap. Ful Medamas has about four million variations in the area between Cairo and Damascus and muhamarra is no different. If you didn't know, Muhammara is a hot pepper and nut dip that is great paired with hummus or simply spread on khubz. I love to eat it with grilled merguez. Mmm. The recipe below comes from my dad so any angry letters from any Syrians should be addressed to him.

1 red chilli
1 bell pepper
30g pine nuts
30g walnuts
30g pistachio nuts
30g almonds
a pinch of cumin
50g or so of breadcrumbs
1/2 a cup of olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon (optional)

The trick here is to break up the nuts by hand (I don't mean using your bare hands, read on). You can chop them if you're confident enough or more traditionally use a pestle and mortar to crush the nuts. Don't crush them too fine. Blitz the de-seeded chilli and red pepper in a food processor and mix with the crushed nuts. Add the remaining ingredients minus the olive oil. You want to work the mixture whilst pouring the olive oil in (don't do this in a processor, the olive oil will get bitter). The mixture might need more olive oil (it should moist but not too wet). The olive oil will help preserve it and it will keep for up to 10 days. Season it and then add the lemon juice if that's your preference. Serve with khobz or pitta bread and some hummus.


8 December 2009 at 15:16 Phoo-D said...

Terrific new layout and look! I really like the logo.

I love muhammara, and this recipe looks much better than the one I have used in the past. A mortar and pestle needs to go on my x-mas list!

9 December 2009 at 17:35 M. A. Salha said...

Phoo-D - Thank you! :-) You should leave hints around the house. Open magazine pages, etc. Maybe even write a list and give it out to family and friends (but where's the fun in that?).

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