Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Day 2 of Vegan MoFo and I feel like I should be cooking something impressive but I’m under the weather. I’m also lucky enough to have leftover tamale pie so I really don’t need to cook. But it’s kind of lame to blog about leftovers, so I felt compelled to come up with something, even if it’s brief.

Anyone who knows me knows that I get obsessed with certain foods sometimes. And while that can be good because it helps you hone in a recipe, it can also lead to a weekend full of nothing but knishes, several days of soups or stir fries using pickled shitakes, and the “winter of French braises” from several years ago that my wife still recalls with a certain amount of dread. One of my current obsessions is dips, or you could call them salsas, chutneys or pestos. They’re essentially rough purees of various ingredients that can be used as dips for bread or vegetables at a mezze table, but also can be added as garnishes to soups or other dishes, so they’re incredibly versatile.

One of my current favorites is Muhammara, which is a red pepper and walnut dip from Syria. There are a lot of variants of this and mine is not the definitive one since mine is oil-less. You can certainly add some oil to it if you’ve not concerned about added fat. Mine is also inauthentic in that I used Spanish piquillo peppers, but you can use plain roasted peppers if you want. (I get jarred piquillo peppers at Trader Joe’s for $2 and that makes this a fast dish that I can snack on while I cook something else.) I serve it with homemade pita chips, which is the only decent thing you can do with store bought pitas, but you can serve it with any fresh flatbread. You can also add a few spoonful’s as a garnish to lentil soup. If you live in Portland, go to Barbur World Foods and get some fresh baked pitas and keep the tough supermarket ones for making chips.

I call for fresh breadcrumbs. I use whatever fresh bread I have on hand and process it to crumbs in a food processor. (It’s a Jacques Pepin trick.) Fresh bread makes fluffy crumbs so you don’t need as many and it doesn’t make you’re food taste heavy and overly bready. Try it and then you can feed the can of stale, nasty supermarket ones you have to the birds.

The Aleppo pepper and pomegranate molasses are worth tracking down, but you can substitute red chiles for the Aleppo pepper and a little more lemon juice for the pomegranate if you can’t find them. (Some people will argue that it’s not Muhammara without the pomegranate molasses and they’d be correct, but it will still taste good.)  You can find both of these at Barbur World Foods (plus some awesome Lebanese wine). 


1 slice of white or whole wheat bread, processed to crumbs in a food processor
1-2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
½ cup of toasted walnuts (toast them in a pan or in the oven until lightly browned)
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 – 10 oz. jar of roasted piquillo peppers or 3 roasted and peeled red peppers
1-2 teaspoons of Aleppo pepper, rinsed and drained or 1 fresh or dried red chile
1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon of lemon
A couple of grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil (optional but traditional)

1. In food processor, process the slice of bread to crumbs. Remove them to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add the walnuts, garlic, and salt to the process and process to a rough paste (but not a puree).
3. Add the piquillo peppers and process for 30-45 seconds until broken down and incorporated.
4. Add the bread crumbs, Aleppo pepper, cumin seeds, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, black pepper and oil (if using) and process for another 15 seconds or so to mix. Put it into a bowl and let it sit for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

To make homemade pita chips, cut each pita into sixths and separate the layers so you get 12 wedges per pita. Toast on a sheet pan at 350 for 5-10 minutes until they dry out and toast ever so slightly. 2-3 pitas should make enough chips for a batch of dip and will fit onto one sheet pan.

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