Monday, November 29, 2010

mhammara—lebanese grilled red pepper and walnut dip—divine holiday appetizer straight from lebanon!

i discovered luscious mhammara dip on a bus tour of monasteries my mother and i took with the Greek Orthodox church choir from our village of douma in 1998. before sunrise we joined the initially quiet small group on the bus as they picked us up at Hotel Douma where we were staying...the lovely circular building in the area at the edge of town that used to be called snobar, or the pine tree grove, which you can see still surround the hotel in the photo. the hotel reminds me of the capitol records building in hollywood near where i grew up. 

okay, the douma hotel is not as tall! but they are both built in the round! and it is a great place to stay when visiting douma!

the aroma of arabic coffee perfumed the bus, and a darbuka was tucked silently next to a young man in the front of the bus. mama and i were strategically placed next to the driver, who, once the sun energized the group was clapping with both hands (not on the steering wheel) to accompany the singing and drumming, while manuevering beirut traffic, which as we descended from the mountains, thickened much like the bottom of the arabic coffee pot into a dense mass.

and this is how the day began. mama soon joined in the singing in arabic of the lebanese national anthem, which she remembered from her childhood!

we stopped for ghadda, the main meal of the day at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, at an amazing restaurant in the mountains, after having visited two wonderful monasteries full of icons and mosaics and relics. the long table spread with a beautiful feast of appetizers included mhammara, mounds of fresh vegetables, dozens of little plates, and entrees that were mouth-watering delicious!

the mhammara dip wasn't something i grew up with that mama made, but i fell in love with it, and when i returned to the states, devised a recipe which is in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking on page 175 to replicate what i remembered and loved. my recipe is a simple and quick one, that is a hit whenever served—and is quickly made up in my mini food processor.

the basic ingredients are sweet red peppers, walnuts, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses (dibbis rimman)—a favorite of northern lebanese for tartness in fattoush instead of lemon juice, some chili paste, and bread crumbs to absorb the juices if it's too runny.

starting out with fresh red peppers, just like the eggplant in baba ghannouj—see my previous post—these beauties get roasted right over the flame until the skin is blackened, which is a much quicker process than for the eggplants. immediately they're popped into a paper bag that is closed to retain the flavors and to slowly cool. while they are on the stove top charring, i add chopped garlic and salt to the processor and pulse them together.

next, i carefully and easily peel all of the charred skin and discard, rinsing the pepper under cool water to remove any bits of black. i then cut out and remove the stem, membrane, and seeds. any liquid inside the pepper can be added to the food processor, along with fresh garlic, salt, the red peppers, walnuts, sesame seeds, lemon juice, sesame seeds, pomegranate molasses, and chili paste. 

i pulse this very quickly so as not to make a pureé, as i prefer this to be a bit on the chunky side, rather than creamy. it tastes great both ways, only a matter of preference.

garnish with a walnut half, and serve with pita chips, arabic bread, or any type of crackers!
a great complement to hommus and baba ghannouj for a holiday party!

sahtein, happy cooking, and happy holidays!


  1. This is a fantastic dish! We made it for a party, and it was a HUGE hit! Everyone loved it! It is easy to make, and full of wonderful flavor. Goodbye hummus and baba ghannouj - this will be your new favorite! Actually, I take that back - the Baba Ghannouj from Alice's Kitchen is the best I have tasted - ever - so, I'm not ready to give up either of them yet. Yum! : )

  2. thank you so much for your enthusiastic response!

    the mhammara recipe is a great hit whenever it's shared with friends...and so colorful and easy to make now that you have the secrets of grilling red peppers, which happens in no time at all!

    sahtein! and happy cooking!