It was coming to the end of a long and sultry day as I languidly lay upon a heap of vintage embroidered cushions, the candle-lit lanterns flickering in the warm early evening breeze. The music in the background was haunting and exotic as if it were calling me from a far away place. I learned that it was a track called ‘Couples‘ written by Kinan Azmeh, an absolutely brilliant Syrian musician. If you have time listen to it with the volume turned up and feel your heart gently break for a lost love. Then have a glass of wine and forget about it because the love was lost for a reason and it’s really not cool to dwell on the past. So, back to that evening in Istanbul. The mood returned to the usual kind of upbeat a few minutes later when we were joined by a bunch of friends. Some Turkish and some Syrian, we all gathered together around a worn wooden table chatting and telling stories as we prepared a mezze-style feast to share. This classic Syrian dish called muhammara was my contribution (alongside a tomato and pomegranate salad). It’s a heady combination of roasted walnuts, cumin, hot biber salçasi, tomato paste, sweet sour pomegranate molasses and extra-virgin olive oil and is one of my favourite things to eat in all the world. Try it on warm pillowy flatbreads, swirled into labneh or piled high atop of a bowl of lemony hummus. It also makes a great condiment for a BBQ.
Serves four as part of a mezze feast
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
30g coarse sourdough breadcrumbs
1 tsp ground cumin
80g walnuts, roasted in a pan for a few minutes
4 tbsp of Turkish red pepper paste, hot biber salçasi
1 tbsp tomato purée
1-2 tbsps pomegranate molasses
Extra-virgin Kalamata olive oil
1 lemon, juiced (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Hazelnut dukkah, cumin seeds or Aleppo pepper, to garnish
How I make it
Place a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until sweet and translucent, around 30 minutes. Transfer to a food processor.
Add the bread and cumin and whizz into a fine paste. Add the nuts and pulse until you achieve your preferred consistency, I prefer mine quite coarse because I love the taste of walnuts. Add the red pepper paste, the tomato purée and pomegranate molasses. Loosen with a splash of olive oil and season to your taste adding the lemon juice here (if using).
Turn it into a pretty dish and garnish with hazelnut dukkah, cumin seeds or Aleppo pepper. This will keep in the fridge for up to four days.
Serve alongside other small dishes and freshly baked pide ekmeği, a traditional Turkish flatbread.