Muhammara is one of the most popular mezze dishes and one of the most distinct flavoured. This dish is originally from Aleppo, they love their peppers there. Even a type of pepper is named after the place Aleppo Pepper.
The main ingredient in Muhammara is sun-dried pepper paste. The red pepper is finely chopped, salted and dried in the summer sun in large trays.
You buy red pepper paste ready made from the market in Syria as it is a long painful process to make your own as I personally discovered. Here in London if you depend on the beautiful British summer to dry your peppers you are up for a long wait. The Olympic will hit London way before you get to taste your Muhammara. Instead I tried a Nigella Lawson inspired "Oven Kissed" red pepper paste complete with finger licking and night trips to the fridge.
I heated the oven to maximum, cut my red peppers to half, salted them and put them in the hot oven. I immediately turned off the oven and left them over night. Next morning, no where near ready! I repeated the process and by the evening, after the oven cooled down again, I thought they are ready enough. NOT REALLY. I put the peppers in the food processor and so much water came out. I had to spread them on a tray and back to the hot oven for another night. They came out OK this time. Close enough to the real thing.
The moral of the story, If you are in Syria go to the market. If you are in London buy a jar of ready roasted peppers and put them in the food processor.
Update 4/11/2009: I now managed to find Turkish made red pepper paste from a Turkish supermarket in West Ealing. I am sure you can find it as well in the many Turkish shops in North East London, Green Lanes area. Check my Essential Shopping Basket for more details.
This recipe is how my mum make it rather than the traditional way. I use fine bulgur wheat instead of the usual bread crumbs. Bulgur wheat from Arabic supermarket comes in two varieties coarse for cooking and fine for tabouleh and kebbeh. The one you buy from Tesco is somewhere in between and it doesn't work for either purpose. So make a trip to the nearest Middle Eastern shop, it is worth it.
This is how I make Muhammara:
Red pepper paste 250g
Fine bulgur wheat soaked in water 1/2 cup (replace with bread crumbs for more traditional smooth texture)
Chopped walnut 1/2 cup
Pomegranate molasses 2 tbs
Mix the pepper, Bulgur(bread crumbs), walnuts and the molasses and mix well. Add lemon to taste. You might need to add some sugar if your peppers are not sweet. Muhammara is nice with a sweet hint. Finally add olive oil slowly and mix till you get the right texture.
There is loads of variations to this recipe and you can experiment. I add a table spoon or two of tahini. I think it works very well. Garlic and cumin are common ingredients to add. And finally hot chilli powder if you want it hot.