Jet lag is evil. No matter how I try to prepare or counteract, it leaves me flattened, sometimes worse than others. Earlier this summer, for reasons that are unclear, I opted to arrive in London at the grotesque hour of 6am. Granted it was an impromptu trip, hastily booked before starting a new job but my thought was I could sleep the whole way there and hit the ground running. That did not happen for one key reason: old Hollywood musicals via the in-flight on-demand system. Gets me every time. By the time I arrived at my friends flat, everyone was just starting to wake and greet the day, ready for a hearty round of site-seeing. They were obviously over their jet lag. Mine was just starting.
To go to sleep now would have been pure folly, as wonderful as it sounded. The goal was to stay awake all day and right my internal clock in the quickest way possible. So I showered, gulped down an energy drink and headed out to play tourist with an enthusiasm I did not possess. I faltered only once, taking an unintentional snooze in Westminster Abbey’s Speakers Corner. I should have been more aware of the dangers of the monotonous voice of the audio tour guide. Danger! Danger! I leaned up against a wall to learn about William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin and awoke with a jolt when my guidebook hit my feet with a great, noisy clatter. I quickly gathered my things and stumbled off to find my friends so we could make the slow trudge home. Over strong objections, I opted for a quick pre-dinner nap while they went to the corner pub. I dozed off to mumbles of bets on whether or not I would wake up for dinner. Ha! Miss a meal? Little did they know.
An hour or two later I sat in a haze in a favorite local restaurant. I immediately ordered a double espresso and tried to shake the cobwebs from my brain. It wasn’t going well. This place seemed familiar but I knew I’d never dined there. I stared at the patterned menu cover baffled. Why did I know this? I started to ponder alternate universes. Once the caffeine kicked in, things started to make a little sense. I spied their cookbook behind the register and it dawned on me that I’d been circling it on Amazon for some time. Oh! Moro! I read about this place! The husband and wife chef team are rather distinct, given that they both have the name Sam Clark. That’s not easily forgotten. OK, OK. I got it. I’d been wanting to dine here for years.
Now excited, I perused the menu … Spanish with bits of a Moorish influence, interesting tapas, a great wine list. Even if I hadn’t been encompassed by a travel induced haze, it would have been difficult to order. Everything sounded wonderful but one dish, one word actually, caught my eye: Muhammara. Whatever it was, they were serving it with a piece of fish. Muhammara. I’d never heard of it.
The server described it as a red pepper sauce with walnuts and breadcrumbs. I was too tired to focus on anything else so partly out of curiosity but mostly out of exhaustion, I ordered it. What came was a bright sauce, both in color and flavor, that was exquisite with the beautiful piece of sea bass. How had I not known of this before? I asked the server to spell it for me while I made a note to research later when I was more lucid.
As the summer bounty is winding down in the farmers markets, the abundance of red peppers jogged my memory. What was that sauce called again? I scrolled through my iPhone, having a fuzzy memory of capturing the name for later. There it was: Muhammara. A quick google search, right there in the market, revealed it was a fairly common Middle Eastern dip, originally from Syria and made from Aleppo peppers, walnuts and breadcrumbs. Since fresh Aleppo peppers aren’t particularly abundant in the Midwest, I tried the more common red peppers and roasted them to develop some flavor. Since the recipe wasn’t in the book, much to my chagrin, I cobbled together a version that seemed as best as my foggy memory can recall pretty close to the sauce I was served that night. I pureed the peppers with walnuts, breadcrumbs, fresh garlic and lemon juice, smoked paprika and chile flakes then added a little pomegranate molasses for that characteristic tang.
While typically served as a dip with pita, I liked it the way I first experienced it – over a piece of fish. It’s delicious, easy and a welcome addition to my mental list of keepers. Make a batch and keep it in the fridge for a week of two or freezer for longer and you have a quick and easy way to make a fast weeknight dinner.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HUZZAH! This is pretty wonderful and full of bright, delicious flavors that go really well with so many things: fish, chicken, as a dip or spread. I think it would pretty damn wonderful on a lamb burger with a little arugula and red onion. Oh wait. I think I have some ground lamb tucked away somewhere …
On this blog four years ago: Classic Apple Pie, Tips for Lattice Crusts
On this blog three years ago: Bangkok World Gourmet Festival, Radishes Butter & Sea Salt
On this blog two years ago: PB&J Bars
On this blog one year ago: Raw Kale & Roasted Squash Salad
MUHAMMARA – inspired by Moro restaurant, London
Makes about ¾ cup
Serve on it’s own as a dip with warm pita triangles or as a topping on fish, chicken, burgers or whatever strikes your fancy. Look for pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern markets or increasingly in regular grocery stores in the ethnic cuisine aisle. I’m also thinking that, in a pinch, jarred roasted peppers or even jarred piquillo peppers would work pretty well, making this even easier. If packed in vinegar, as opposed to water, leave out the lemon juice and add at the end if needed.
2 large red peppers (about ¾ pound)
2 Tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs, processed fine
2 Tablespoons walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon dried chile flakes
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil
pinch of za’atar for garnish
- To roast the peppers, place directly on a gas burner turned to high, turning to completely blacken on all sides. Transfer to a bowl, tightly cover and let steam and cool. When cool enough to handle, about 10-15 minutes, scrape off the blackened skin with the back of a paring knife. Discard blackened skin and seeds and roughly chop the roasted pepper flesh.
- Alternatively, roast on a foil lined sheet pan in a 400°F oven, turning frequently until blackened on all sides. Or roast under a broiler until blackened on all sides. Let cool and clean as directed above.
- In a food processor puree the cleaned peppers, breadcrumbs, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste until the mixture is smooth.
- With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Transfer the muhammara to a bowl until ready to serve and garnish with a good pinch of za’atar.
- Serve alongside fish, grilled chicken, as a dip with toasted pita. Can be made several days ahead – it gets better with age – and refrigerate until needed or freeze for longer storage.