Muhammara Dip

After I blogged about our feast of Turkish cooking, I had a few people demand recipes. To them I strongly recommend getting a copy of Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Başan. We’ve now tried multiple dishes from it and they’ve all turned out delicious.

MuhammaraHowever, there’s one recipe that wasn’t in that book: muhammara (walnut and roast red capsicum) dip. For that I had to google. I’ve now made it a bunch of times so this recipe is my take on the half a dozen or more recipes I found online.

5 or 6 big red capsicum (bell peppers)
2 cups of walnuts
approx half to 1 cup bread crumbs (1 pull two slices of bread out of the freezer, which defrost almost instantly, and then crumb them. Don’t use packaged bread crumbs. You can also leave the bread out altogether. Go easy on the liquids in that case and you’ll probably need more walnuts.)
garlic (I use A LOT.)
1 tbs pomegranate molasses or pomegranate juice
1 tsp kirmizi biber (a Turkish spice mix made from chilli peppers. So far I haven’t been able to find it in Sydney so I use half cayenne pepper and half sweet paprika.)
1 tsp ground cumin
juice of half a lemon (if they’re super juicy)

I make it using two mortars and pestle, a large and a small one. Most people use a food processor. I’ve not used a food processor in, like, a million years, so you’re own your own if that’s how you want to do it. I’m sure you’ll know how.

1) Roast the capsicum. I do this by pre-heating the oven to 200C. I cover a baking tray with foil then oil it with olive oil. I put the whole capsicum on top and roll them in the oil and put a small hole in each one. (It’s never happened to me but a friend swears they can explode.) It takes about an hour. When they start to blacken, take them out, and put them in a large saucepan. Cover it with a clean, dry tea towel and stick the lid on top. When they’re cool you’ll find it’s easy to de-skin, de-seed and de-string them. As you pull the roasted capsicum free of that stuff, tear it into tiny pieces and place it in a bowl. You’ll find it tears easily. You can even squish it if you like. But basically you want it in as many small bits as you can.

When you’re finished you’ll find you’ve got a fair amount of liquid. I put all the capsicum bits into a large strainer to collect even more liquid and to drain the capsicum. This liquid can be used later to moisten the bread crumbs. The lemon juice is also good for that.

2) Bash the crap out of the walnuts in the big mortar and pestle. Have your assistant (mine’s called Scott) bash the garlic with some salt in the wee mortar and pestle until it’s practically liquid.

3) When the walnuts are near dust add the roasted capsicum bits and pound them.

4) Now it’s time to add three quarters of the breadcrumbs. (You hold back a quarter just in case it becomes too sloppy.) Moisten them a bit first. Most recipes say to use water, but I think that dilutes the intensity of the flavours, so I use either the capsicum liquid or some of the lemon juice. Bash away at it.

5) Next add the near-liquid garlic, the pomegranate molasses (or juice), and the cumin and chilli. Mix it together with a spoon. If you feel like it, pound remaining unpounded bits of capsicum or walnut. But don’t stress, part of the beauty of using a mortar and pestle is that you don’t get an absolutely uniform texture. It results in a better taste and mouth feel.1

6) Taste it. Add salt, pepper and more lemon juice until you think the balance is right. Mix it together with a spoon.

7) If it’s too liquid add the remaining bread. Bash the bread into the mixture. Repeat 6)

Last) Serve and eat! So far I’ve eaten it on bread, on carrot sticks, as a condiment with the main course, and off a spoon out of the fridge.2

You can add the ingredients in any order you like. The above is just what I’ve found works best for me. (I’m sure you food processor barbarians throw the lot into your evil machines in one go.) Though you do have to roast the capsicum first. The proportions are up to you as well. Depending on who I’m making it for I’ll use more chilli than I’ve suggested here. Make it a few times and figure out what you think works best.

Hope my directions make sense. You can tell I don’t make a living writing cook books, can’t you?


Happy new year!

  1. Yes, “mouth feel” is a real term. I did not make it up. []
  2. Don’t tell Scott about that last one. []


  1. chaos on #

    Re mouth feel, cf. this article: “successful mouth-feel technicians retire to seaside mansions”.

  2. Justine on #

    chaos: I missed my calling!

  3. Lauren on #

    Justine thanks for posting these recipes!

  4. Lauren on #

    I was just going through your appearances after learning Scott couldn’t at TLA it brightened my day to see that you were going to be at TLA! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I’ve been trying to see you in texas but the last time you were in Austin and well, I live in fort worth… so thanks for showing up closer to me!

  5. Lauren on #

    Darn! that was one of your old appearances! 🙁

  6. caitlin on #

    Thanks for sharing the recipe! Now, I want to go home and cook and eat of course! Thanks to both you and Scott for visiting UBookstore and Seattle in 2009. A very happy 2010 to both of you.

  7. Nicholas Waller on #

    I just saw a review of Orhan Parmuk’s The Museum of Innocence in The Times today, which says among other things it is a celebration and an “almost encyclopaedic memorialisation of Istanbul”, so it might be of interest. There’s another from tomorrow’s Sunday Times here.

    Both seem to agree that the love story is not so great (“prolix and wooden”, “fails to grip”), but the “enthralment” with Istanbul is. (I think of Ankh-Morpork as a bit like Istanbul).

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