Roasted Red Pepper, Walnut & Feta Dip
Mike and I had some friends over for dinner the other night, and our conversation about what to make went roughly the way that it always does:
Tina: “Hey, what do you think that should I make for them?”
Mike: “I dunno. Whatever. It’s all good.”
Tina: “Well, I could make Mexican. I know that they like Mexican, but then again we’ve made Mexican before when they’ve come over so I feel like maybe I should make something else but I’m really not sure…”
Mike: “Mexican would be fine.”
Tina: “But then again, I haven’t made Thai food in a while, and I know that they like Thai and we have that giant bottle of fish sauce to use up.”
Mike: “Okay, so make Thai.”
Tina: “I could make Indian, I suppose. Or just something basic like a roast, you like a roast, right? Or pork tenderloin, it’s on sale right now. I don’t know, what do YOU want? I don’t know!”
Mike: “That sounds good.”
With such stellar feedback, combined with my chronic waffling, I headed to my good ol’ standby: Lebanese. I knew that they liked Lebanese food almost as much as I did, so it was a safe bet.
I will openly admit that I don’t generally like roasted red peppers. If I had to try to put my finger one what it is that bothers me so much about them, I would have to say the texture. And the flavor. And the smell. So, basically, everything. However, when they get pureed into a dip with other ingredients that I do like? I’m not so fussy. My friend who was coming over is of Bosnian origin, and they often have Ajvar in the house, or a spread made from Ajvar and feta. This dip is similar to theirs, melded with one of my favorite Middle Eastern dips: Muhammara .
Muhammara (also spelled Mouhammara, Muhamarra, or Acuka to the Turks) is a dip made from roasted red peppers, and often uses bread crumbs and/or walnuts to give it body and texture. Pomegranate molasses may be added to give it a bit of sweet’n’sour bite, and cumin is the most commonly used spice. It can then be eaten as a dip for bread and vegetables, or as a condiment served alongside kebab or grilled meats. Or with a spoon. There’s that option as well, which I explored rigorously in the interest of science.
The best pepper to use for Muhammara is the Aleppo pepper, named after the town of Aleppo in Syria. They are slightly sweet, mildly hot, and have almost an exotic spiciness to the flavor. If you can’t find roasted Aleppo peppers (which is quite possible – I went to a Middle Eastern grocer and still couldn’t find them) you can use roasted Spanish Pimenton, or even your favorite high quality regular ol’ jar of roasted reds. Because the type of pepper used to make Muhammara varies regionally, as does the cook’s personal tastes, the dip can be anywhere from smoky-sweet to eyebrow-sizzling hot – really, it’s however you like it.
Muhammara bi Jibneh just means Muhammara with cheese. Nothing to be alarmed of there! And indeed, after eating Muhammara bi Jibneh, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to the soft bread-crumby dip that I previously loved. There’s just something so intrinsically addictive about this dip….oh, that rascally salty, smoky, sweet-hot taste! Peppers and feta and spices – oh my! Then the walnuts, those little tricksters, come out just enough to make your guests ask, “yes, but what else is in there?”
You hopefully know by now that I don’t lie to you (although I might talk dirty behind your back), and I can say with full confidence that this ranks right up there as one of the best dips I have ever made. Ever. From the mouth of a Girl Guide who’s NOT trying to sell cookies. So don’t be frightened by the name, or by the walnuts…or the pomegranate molasses….just give it a shot, you might be surprised.
Muhammara bi Jibneh: Roasted Red Pepper, Walnut & Feta Dip
Makes 2 1/2 cups
- 3 whole large roasted red peppers (about 1 – 1.25 cups chopped roughly) *
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1.5 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 3/4 cup chopped walnut pieces
- 200 g feta (about 1 1/4 cups when crumbled) **
- Salt and pepper to taste
* If you can find Aleppo peppers they would be ideal, and you would want to use 4-5 because of the smaller size.
** There are very few ingredients in this dip, so quality really matters. That doesn’t mean that you need to break the budget buying fancy-shmancy artisanal goats milk feta made by a monastic farmer in northern Greece, but you’d be wise to steer clear of the vacuum sealed Ziggy’s discount feta that holds court beside the Velveeta and Cheez Strings.
Roughly chop the roasted red peppers and garlic. Place them in a food processor with the cumin, red pepper flakes, olive oil and pomegranate molasses.
Whiz the peppers until they’ve formed a smooth saucey paste and you don’t see any big chunks of garlic. Crumble in the feta, add the chopped walnuts, and pulse the mixture until it’s combined but still slightly chunky. Be sure not to over-process or you’ll miss out on the texture and taste variations which make this dip so lovely.
You can garnish the dip with some chopped walnuts, a sprig of parsley, fresh mint, or whatever you fancy.
Make sure that you have plenty of pita bread or cruddite to scoop up all the goodness, and you’re off to the races.
One bit of friendly advice, however. I’ve said it before, but this dip is highly addictive. I mean it. You’ve been warned. I would go as far as to call it ‘the dip which eats like a meal’, not because it’s so hearty and filling, but just because you might eat so much of it that dinner will be naught but a fleeting fancy….which I can say with the voice of someone who knows. Sah’tang!