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All too often when we hear the name of a country in the Middle East, the story is one of sadness and torment. Recently, Syria has been in the news and it’s not good.

Despite the ongoing adventures of troops, politicians, and fanatics, the societies continue to function, as best they can. Truly, everybody eats. Buildings may tumble, but recipes survive.

And the Middle East is filled with culinary ideas that we can all enjoy. By now, you’ve probably had hoummus or baba ganoush in your life. Here’s a third dip, from Syria, that you’ll find equally delicious. And, there is a side benefit to this one.

I don’t think I would ever make a ham sandwich with hoummus on the bread. But this muhammara is a wonderful dip that can double as your sandwich spread. Add some pickles — either American sour or Middle East hot — and you have luxury.

The flavor of this dip is smoky and layered. At first, the smoked peppers naturally dominate, but then the tomato and nuts begin to tingle across your tongue. As a party dip, the green of the pistachios is wonderful accent to the deep red-orange from the peppers.

Yes, I know, if I go the Middle East and ask for a ham sandwich, I am liable to see the wrong end of an AK-47. I’m not going to do that.

Oh, as a side fact, do you know why they call that gun an AK-47? It’s the first two letter of the inventor’s last name and the last two digits of the year the gun was designed. Yes, that nasty weapon has been around since 1947. Civilization often appears to be a perpetual amalgam of weapons and food.

We’ll just focus on the food.

Muhammara or Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a dip


  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 1 slice of day-old sourdough bread, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • Chopped pistachios, to sprinkle
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted flatbread, roughly torn, to serve


Cook the peppers one at a time by skewering each one on a fork and holding it directly over a gas flame for 10-15 minutes until the skin is blackened all over. Alternatively, put them on a baking sheet and then in an oven preheated to 425°F. Cook them for about 10-15 minutes, until the skin has puffed up and blackened all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and leave until cool enough to handle.

Using your hands, remove the skin and seeds from the peppers and tear the flesh into pieces. (Avoid rinsing with water as this will remove that desired smoky flavor.). Put the flesh in a food processor and add the remaining ingredients. Process to a coarse paste. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or ideally overnight to allow the flavors to fully develop.

To serve, bring the dip to room temperature and transfer to a shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Serve with torn toasted flatbreads. It will keep in airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Source: Home-Grown Harvest from the publisher Ryland Peters & Small