The first time I tasted muhammara, I was at my in-laws’ house. My husband’s mother is Syrian, she grew up in Egypt when it was still beautiful and tolerant and modern. It was through P’s family that I was introduced to the flavours of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It’s truly a unique culture and I’ve found similarities in their conception and appreciation of food with the Asian food culture I grew up with in Malaysia. Hospitality wise, they’re the warmest of people you will ever meet…:)
Now, the muhammara is usually served as part of a mezze, which are small tapas-style plates usually served with alcohol. I think the preferred aperitif is Arak and it’s quite similar in taste, and effect, as absinthe. Muhammara is like the lesser known, but equally if-not-more-delicious, cousin of hummus and baba ghanouj. Made from a combination of olive oil, spices, roasted red peppers, walnuts, sometimes pine nuts and bread crumbs or bulgur wheat, it has multi-purpose applications. Everyone loves a good hummus but wait till you try muhammara. It’s slightly spicy, nutty and very tasty on top of pita breads, toasts, sandwiches, fresh vegetables, pasta…basically, you can put that <beep> on everything! Every household in the region makes this delicious concoction differently but it originates from Syria with the use Aleppo peppers.
Since Aleppo peppers are hard to come by outside of the Middle East, red bell peppers can be used together with other dried pepper varieties. In this recipe, I found that (surprise, surprise!) Korean chilli powder does the job wonderfully as a replacement for Aleppo pepper. It imparts a lovely bright red and smokiness to the dip. Now you know what to do with your extra chilli powder after making kimchi!