This spicy red pepper walnut dip is the perfect addition to any mezze spread. It is sweet and fiery thanks to the roasted red pepper and chilli flakes. And the walnuts add a delicious nutty flavour and a welcome crunch.
Lebanese muhammara is delicious as a healthy party snack with pita crisps, veggie crudites, or lettuce cups.
But it is also so much more than just a party dip. You can serve it on butter bean mash for a more substantial vegan appetiser or spoon it over a shallow bowl spread with labneh. Or use it as a cook-in sauce for white beans or serve it with fresh pasta.
What is muhammara
Muhammara (or mhammara) is a spicy red pepper dip with Aleppo pepper, walnuts, olive oil and breadcrumbs. It can also contain garlic, salt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and spices. Common garnishes include herbs like mint leaves and parsley.
The word muhammara in Arabic means “reddened”.
While the hot pepper dip originates from the Syrian city of Aleppo, it is common in Levantine and Turkish cuisines. The most distinctive aspect of Levantine cuisine (which includes Lebanese cuisine) is traditional mezze.
I adore serving mezze for long lazy lunches with friends. Small plates of delicious spreads, dips and salads get shared at the table, always with piles of soft bread or pita. Classic mezze dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine include tabbouleh, hummus, baba ganoush and muhammara.
Muhammara ingredients & substitutions
You don’t need much to make this delicious muhammara spread. The most important ingredients are red peppers and walnuts. Substitute any other ingredients as needed.
- Jar of roasted red peppers: I love the convenience of jarred roasted red peppers, but you can roast fresh peppers in the oven. See the instructions for roasting red bell peppers in the oven. Use three large red bell peppers.
- Walnuts: I use raw walnuts, but you can also use roasted walnuts. If your walnuts are salted, reduce the salt in the recipe.
- Garlic: Use one medium-sized fresh garlic clove (about 5 grams). But, if you love the pungency of raw garlic, you can add two cloves. I’m a one-clove-kinda-girl.
- Pomegranate molasses: This concentrated pomegranate juice is acidic, sweet and fruity. It’s a common ingredient in Lebanese cooking and worth keeping in your pantry.
- Substitute: If you can’t find pomegranate molasses, you can use pomegranate syrup or balsamic glaze. Or substitute the one tablespoon of pomegranate molasses with two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Alternatively, use more lemon juice.
- Lemon juice: I like to use pomegranate molasses and lemon juice, but you can use either one for the acidic kick the dip needs.
- Olive oil: Always use the best quality fresh extra virgin olive oil.
- Smoked paprika: This paprika adds a sweet and smoky note, but it is optional. You can always stick to cumin only.
- Cumin: Ground cumin is probably the spice I use most often. Cumin powder has a distinctive earthy flavour that works well with the sweetness of the peppers.
- Aleppo chilli flakes: Authentic muhammara uses Aleppo pepper flakes but you can use any hot chilli flakes.
- Breadcrumbs: Authentic muhammara includes breadcrumbs. It helps to bind the dip into a thick, coarse paste. But I sometimes omit the bread to keep my muhammara naturally gluten-free for the sake of my guests. The muhammara will be a bit saucier but still delicious.
- Red pepper paste: The red pepper version of tomato paste is a smooth, red paste with an intense red pepper flavour. It can be tricky to track down in Western grocery stores. But if you do find it, go ahead and add a tablespoon of red pepper paste.
- Sumac: If you want to add more bright acidity to the dip without thinning it out, sumac is your friend!
How to make muhammara from roasted bell peppers
You can also make muhammara from fresh roasted bell peppers (or other sweet red peppers). I appreciate the convenience of jarred peppers to make a quick snack for unexpected guests. But I often use fresh peppers if I have the time.
Preheat your oven to 430 °F (220 °C).
Cut the red peppers in half. Remove and discard the cores, veins and seeds. Then place the peppers skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Since the oven is on already, why not roast the garlic too? Take a whole unpeeled bulb of garlic, rub it with olive oil and wrap it in a single layer of foil. Add it to the baking tray with the peppers.
Place the tray in the hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the red pepper skins are wrinkly and charred. Allow the peppers to cool. There is no need to peel the peppers, but you can.
Roughly chop the peppers and squeeze the sweet garlic flesh from the whole roasted bulb. Add it to the food processor and continue with the recipe.
How to make muhammara
Simply place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz them into a coarse paste.
The dip needs some texture. So don’t use a high-speed blender, or you’ll end up with a pureé.
Homemade muhammara tips
- If your muhammara is too thick, add more olive oil.
- If your muhammara is too thin, add breadcrumbs two tablespoons at a time. You can also use stale crackers.
- You can boost the rich walnut flavour by toasting the walnuts in a dry pan.
- Don’t be scared to play around with the ratio of walnuts to red pepper.
- Always taste and adjust your seasoning, spiciness and acidity. Add more pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, salt or chilli flakes to taste.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container for three days. Bring the delicious dip back to room temperature before serving.
How to serve muhammara
Or serve the spicy dip with pita chips, vegetable crudités, or lettuce cups for a healthy snack.
Serve muhammara sauce with pasta or cooked beans. Replace the sauce with muhammara in this roasted red pepper with butter beans recipe. You can omit the breadcrumbs if you want to use muhammara as a pasta sauce.
Muhammara is also a tasty spread. Slather it generously over slices of toasted sourdough bread.
To bulk up the muhammara, serve it on top of butter bean mash as Yotam Ottolenghi does in his cookbook Ottolenghi Simple (Amazon affiliate link). Serve muhammara on butter bean mash as a vegan appetiser with plenty of fresh pita bread.
In Lebanese cuisine, muhammara is also a sauce for kebabs, grilled meats, and fish. But you can try it with grilled halloumi cheese or tofu skewers to keep things meat-free.
- Food processor or mortar and pestle.
- 1 jar roasted red peppers*, drained
- ½ cup (70 grams) roughly crushed walnut pieces, and extra for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more to drizzle
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, or 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or chilli flakes (add more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
- Drain the peppers well and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blend into a thick, coarse paste.
- Transfer the muhammara to a serving bowl and top with a drizzle of olive oil, coarsely chopped walnuts, and a sprinkle of chilli flake.
- I buy 340 gram (12 oz) jars with a drained weight of 270 grams (7.5 oz). This recipe is very flexible. Weigh your drained peppers and roughly scale the recipe accordingly.
- A food processor works best for this recipe. Don’t use a high-speed blender. You want a coarse paste, not a pureé. You can also use a mortar and pestle though it will require some elbow grease!
- The breadcrumbs thicken the muhammara from a sauce into a paste but feel free to omit it for a naturally gluten-free sauce.