Food from Home: Muhammara
Welcome to part 8 of my Food from Home series!
- Part 1: Why I moved to the Middle East and Tabbouleh
- Part 2: All about shawarmas, and my favourite, Chicken Shawarmas
- Part 3: About my school and Vegetable Biryani
- Part 4: About eating out in Bahrain, and Shish Tawook (or Arabic/Turkish spiced grilled chicken)
- Part 5: About local traffic, golf, modeling, and Fattoush (an Arabic/Lebanese salad)
- Part 6: About Bahrain’s markets and Shrimp Masala
- Part 7: Fancy brunches and Babaghanoush
Over the 5 years that I lived in Bahrain, there was a whoooooooole lotta construction that went on. You might be picturing the country as a far-away tropical land with palm trees and beaches everywhere, but on a lot of days, this is the scenery that you can expect to enjoy:
Not very picturesque, is it? If you think road repairs and other construction projects take a long time here in North America, just be thankful that you don’t live where I did. I always told my parents that my get-rich plan was going to be owning a scaffolding company, where I’d rent scaffolding to builders with projects in Bahrain. Since practically all production schedules run into overtime, I’d make millions in interest. But now that I’ve told you my secret, I bet you’re going to run out there and beat me to the chase. There are some rather pretty and unique places on the island though, and when it’s not sandstorming, things look much cleaner! Strap on your seat belts because I’m going to take you on a wee tour of the country’s landmarks!
Not too far from the Suq that I talked about two weeks ago is the Diplomatic Area and Financial District, where you’ll find a bunch of offices for – no surprises here – financial companies and banks.
Above are Bahrain’s World Trade Centers, and yes, those are wind turbines in the middle. Bahrainis are also super patriotic, so the country’s flag and pictures of the higher-ups in the royal family are absolutely everywhere. The World Trade Centers are located near Bahrain’s northern coast, very close to the Financial Harbour buildings. These buildings contain a ton of offices that belong to investment banks, commercial banks, fund managers, legal & advisory services, etc. These towers were quite new when I lived there, and apparently there is also supposed to be a Harbour Mall (no, not the kind with clothing shops, much to my disappointment). It’s supposed to house the Bahrain Stock Exchange, but I don’t think this exists yet!
The bridge in the shot above is the bridge to Muharraq, which is the very small island in the north-east corner of Bahrain. The only times I ever ventured over to Muharraq were to go to the Bahrain airport and for fancy brunches at hotels like I described last week. Other than those 2 attractions, there isn’t a whole lot going on!
As you can see, Bahrain seems to have a fetish these days with blue glass. There are some much more traditional looking buildings though, including this tourist attraction, the Al Fateh Grand Mosque.
Over 7000 people can fit inside the mosque at a time, and locals flock there five times daily for prayer – at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Visitors and tourists are allowed inside for tours during the day when prayers are not taking place, and have to take their shoes off before going inside. Although women in Bahrain don’t have to cover up completely in public, all women (regardless of religion) have to wear headscarves and dress modestly at the mosque. It was built in 1987 and finished in 1988 – the best year, if you ask me and any other 23 year old – for a modest 7,500,000 Bahraini Dinars. Today this translates into roughly $19,703,912 Canadian. No big deal or anything.
Last stop: The bridge to Saudi Arabia.
Have I ever crossed it? Nope. Apart from my dad, the rest of my family didn’t really have a reason to go to Saudi so none of us bothered to get visas. The King Fahd Causeway is 25km long and around 49,000 passengers cross each day. Along the way, you’ll find a border station, 2 coastguard towers, and 2 mosques. Oh, and just in case you can’t last 25km without sustenance, a McDonalds and a Kudu (a Saudi-born equivalent) will be happy to serve you at the half way mark. As you may have guessed, I have not been to either.
Lucky for you, I’ve got a far more delicious recipe today than anything you’d find at one of the dining establishments along the causeway. It involves these things:
I’m on a roasted red pepper craze these days (3 cheers for vitamin C!), and if you like roasted red pepper dip, you’re going to looooooooove this. Muhammara is traditionally made with roasted red peppers and a bunch of other peppers, including the Aleppo variety from Aleppo, Syria. There are several different variations of this recipe depending on the region of the Middle East that you visit, and most ingredients are very easy to find. Some recipes call for pomegranate molasses which is essentially just pomegranate juice and sugar reduced to a very thick molasses-y consistency. Since I didn’t have any on hand and couldn’t be bothered making my own, I substituted a little balsamic vinegar and honey. The result was absolutely superb, and muhammara has quickly grown to become one of my all-time favourite dips.
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Ingredients (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
- 2 slices of bread, plus 2 tbsp water (or about ½ cup fresh bread crumbs, gluten-free if necessary)
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ cup yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 4 jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
- 2 tsp pomegranate molasses, or 1 tsp each honey and balsamic vinegar as a substitute
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
- flatbread or veggies for dipping
In a frying pan, dry toast the walnuts for 2-4 minutes on medium heat until they become fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them! Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add 2 tsp of the olive oil to the pan and heat for about 30s. Sautee the garlic, onions and cumin until almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place the torn bread pieces and 2 tbsp of water in the bowl of a food processor and whirl around until crumbs form.
Tear the roasted red peppers into strips and add them to the processor. Toss in the toasted walnuts, garlic and onion mixture, and all remaining ingredients except for the oil. Process until smooth. Gradually add the remaining olive oil until the mixture reaches desired consistency. (You may not want to use it all.)
Sprinkle with a little additional cumin and serve with flat bread triangles or veggies, or use as a sauce for pasta, a spread for pitas and sandwiches, or a marinade for grilled meats.
Nutrition (1/16 of recipe): 66 calories, 5g fat (1g saturated), 0mg cholesterol, 18mg sodium, 4g carbs, 1g fiber, 2g sugar, 1g protein.
Once you finish toasting the walnuts successfully without burning them (and I nearly did because I tend to get preoccupied in the kitchen), it’s all easy peasy from there. Just toss the goodies in the food processor and give ‘er a whirl…
Absolute eat-it-straight-up-with-a-spoon perfection.
Alright, if you’re not already running to the kitchen to make this, what are you waiting for!? I absolutely adore muhammara as a veggie dipper, sandwich spread, or dip for flatbread triangles and toasted pita crisps. If my babaghanoush is hummus’ hot older cousin, muhammara is the smokin hot, single older cousin with the 6-pack abs and gorgeous blue eyes. In other words, it’s the Bradley Cooper of all dips. Swoooooooooooooon.