KC 104 - Muhammara

Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. How are you feeling? If you’re like me, you’re probably a little sluggish, a little bloated. Super Bowl Sunday came and went, and boy, I know I made some questionable choices. I know this because I’m actually writing on Friday, in order to set aside the time and space for those choices’ consequences to come raining down on me. So, no, I don’t know who won yet, nor if there was anything notable. The only thing I do know is that most of us probably overate yesterday, maybe hit the sauce a little hard, and are probably in need of something to refresh our systems. And luckily, I have just the thing, a simple little sauce/dip that’s so good, I made it three months ago and only in trying to find its etymology realized it was vegan. So let’s take a look at this delightful dip, and see if it’s something to soothe your ravaged body, but first, let’s talk about one of my many mildly worrying mental oddities.

 

Should I Baader Go, and Spare Not?

There is a psychological phenomenon called “frequency illusion”, or the “Baader-Meinoff phenomenon”. Before you go looking it up, “Baader-Meinhoff” was a far-left German terrorist group, so take a bit of care where you click. Then again, they’ve been defunct for 19 years now, so you’d almost have to be TRYING to go wrong. In any case, the basic effect of the phenomenon is that, once you learn a new word, idea, or name, you will feel like it appears much more frequently in your life for the next few days. Psychologists state that this is because, in essence, your brain has been “ignoring” the word whenever it came up previously, since it didn’t know what it meant, and now that it knows the meaning of the word, it becomes sensitized and forms a confirmation bias for every time it rehears it, telling you “hey, there it is again!”

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There was also a movie. It is, to my knowledge, unrelated. 

The common name comes, of all places, a Minnesotan newspaper FORUM. The paper ran an article in 1994 about the (not yet defunct) terrorist cell, and a man posted on their site that the article was the 3rd time he had heard of the group since he had learned the name…the previous day. He called this weird frequency the “Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon”, and somehow, the name stuck.

I told you about that effect (and, spoilers, you’re probably going to hear it a couple more times in the next couple days if you didn’t know about it before.) because I have a…similar mental tracking system, that kind of goes off randomly. Like, back in November, within a week I heard or saw the word “Farro” something like 5 times. Except, I already KNOW about farro; it’s not a new idea to me. (For those unaware, Farro is basically the same thing as the fucking-lame-named wheatberries, both being more substantial cousins of quinoa)

In my younger, more spiritual days, I’d have called it ‘synchronicity’, and brought up Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious impacting the individual into the flow of humanity, made some murmured allusions to ‘fate’ or ‘guidance’. Because, you know, I was a douche. And essentially a philosophy minor in college. (I was just doing it for fun, because, again, douche, but I learned during my last semester that, if I had taken a single extra 300 level class instead of a 200 I was in, I’d have totally qualified for it. I’ve never really known what to do with that info.)  I don’t do that now, because, well, most people don’t want talk about that kind of shit after college. Especially when there’s a lot more important shit going on in the world right NOW.

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Such as the presumably still-ongoing riots wracking the city of Philadelphia. 

Still, the thing happens every now and again, and, most of the time, I indulge it. I chose my prom date based on it. Well, I chose my FIRST prom date because of it. Within about two weeks, I had 5 prom dates, at which point the school had a dean come sit me down and tell me I wasn’t allowed to bring that many dates. I ended up with 3. The school told me I could only have 1, but, well, I am very persuasive when it comes to letting me do silly things. More recently, I came VERY close to making a farro dish for the site back in November. The only thing that saved you all from a history about bran was that I literally forgot to pick up any on a grocery trip, and then spent a week constantly cooking.

All of that was to let you understand that when I say “I made muhammara because I felt the universe wanted me to”, you don’t go calling the asylum. They charge me extra when they take me in for evaluations because I give the doctors headaches. So what is this dip that I felt divinely guided toward? Let’s investigate.

 

Let’s Get it Out of the Way: Yes, “Muhammara” Kinda Looks Like Someone Laughing Evilly.

Muhammara, pronounced “moo-HAM-A-Ra”, not at all like someone laughing evilly, is a Sauce/Dip from Syria, that’s quite popular in Turkey and similar regions. If you don’t know what a Sauce/Dip is, then I can only assume you don’t put Hummus on sandwiches, and only use Ranch for salads.

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This may be the most dramatic picture of Ranch dressing I've ever seen. 
I'm getting a whole "2001 Monolith" vibe from it. 

The etymology of Muhammara is one of my favorites we’ve had on the site in a while: It means ‘reddened’ in Arabic, implying that, in the Middle East, this is literally “the Red sauce.” I love those kind of simple etymologies.

Anyway, I felt drawn to muhammara partly because I was drawn to something completely different: Pomegranate Molasses. I talked about it briefly in…my… hold on, it’s right…huh. Apparently I’ve never talked about it. I MEANT to, in a post I actually never made, and briefly in another post that pre-dates the actual site, but I’ve never discussed it here. Huh. My bad.

Alright, quick overview, this is pomegranate molasses.

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As you can clearly read. 

It’s basically ultra-concentrated pomegranate juice, simmered down with sugar. Due to the caramelization of the sugars in reduction, it doesn’t taste exactly like pomegranates any more, having a more nuanced tartness. Years ago, I picked a bottle up for some reason. Probably random impulse. And, since it keeps for years, I’ve made a point of holding onto it. I don’t use it as often as I could, (basically any time you use basalmic vinegar, you could consider swapping it for pomegranate molasses.) but when I do, it makes me feel hip and exotic.

Recently, my original bottle finally went bad, so I bought a new one. In order to justify this 3-dollar purchase to myself and my family, I bumbled around for something to use it in. And I stumbled onto Muhammara. Muhammara is made by blending roasted red peppers, chili powder, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses together. And that sounded…really fucking easy! And easy to sell! My family is pretty constantly buying hummus and pita bread, so the idea of “hey, this is basically a less fatty hummus with some tartness” was a pretty easy pitch. And, we actually had two different recipes for it in the house. So, I did what any rational man would do, and attempted to form a shambling Frankenstein monster of the two.

 

Mix it, Mix it, Play God Now and Die in Pain

The two recipes I had came from Cooking Light magazine, and “Cooking at Home with Bridget and Julia”, a newer cookbook my mother had picked up. Bridget’s and Julia’s had one glaring issue: it was too fucking easy.  I mean, it was a ONE STEP RECIPE: “Pulse these ingredients in a food processor. Dump into a bowl, cool down, and serve topped with these ingredients.” The Cooking Light recipe, on the other hand, I was way of: the last time I used a Cooking Light recipe, it actively disgusted my father, and was seen as a fine idea that needed more oomph by the rest of my family. Luckily, the two recipes were almost twins in terms of ingredients: roasted red peppers, walnuts, whole wheat bread products, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, cumin, salt, and hot pepper. Interestingly, the Cooking Light recipe added a clove of garlic. So I tried to err in every instance on the side of flavor or “coolness”. Like, why pay $4 for jarred roasted red peppers, when I could spend $1 to buy my own red peppers, and roast them myself?

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Creating a diorama of my blackened, shriveled hearts. I mean HEART. Singular. I too have only one heart, fellow humans. 

Similarly, rather than use whole wheat crackers, I bought some whole-wheat pitas to blend in for binding. Because that felt a little more cool. You know? Eating a dip made FROM pitas with pitas? I liked the idea, shut up.  Once the peppers are roasted and peeled (You almost never eat the skins of peppers you roast. I know at one point I knew why, but I’ve since forgotten. Probably something to do with too much bitterness from the blackening.), they get tossed in the food processor, along with the rest of your ingredients.

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Mostly the pitas. 

I picked 2 tablespoons of the pom molasses, since Cooking Light said 1, and Bridget & Julia said 3. I tossed in a clove of garlic. (In learning how to pronounce the name, I saw a Turkish woman make a version with 4 whole cloves, so it’s definitely a “to taste” approach.) A teaspoon of cumin, and a few other spices. Some walnuts that I toasted up, olive oil, and LET HER BLITZ. BRRRAP. DA TING GO SKRRRA!

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Delightful. This is certainly appealing. 

That’s like, the first or second pulse. You go for another 4 or 5 pulses. (A “chunky” recipe would stop at 5, while a “smooth” one would go up to 10. Again, I went to 7.) Then you plop it in a bowl and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, to really let the flavors meld. After that, the results speak for themselves.

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Not loudly, perhaps, but they speak nonetheless.

Alright, that’s a pretty unremarkable little dollop. But taste wise? It’s pretty fun. Sweet, tart, a hint of heat (which you can pump up by adding more garlic, or Aleppo pepper/cayenne if you want), it’s a really cool complement to spicier foods, or as a veggie dip beside hummus. I even brought it with me to Leavenworth, and proceeded to not eat it because it’s cold as fucking shit up there. And then I forgot it in my friend’s fridge. But just writing about it today makes me kind of crave it, so I may make up a batch in the next week or so.  Unless I hear the word “fudge” four times in the next two days, and then, well, who am I to argue with the universe?

Help Jon feed his need for…spread…by helping support the site via Patreon! $1 a month can let him buy all the peppers he needs for pulsing, and keep Squarespace from bullying him for his lunch money. And be sure to invite your friends to like our Facebook page, so you can share my madness with them, and have a topic to talk about that isn’t the ever-maddening world we live in. Or do none of those things! The choice is yours!

THURSDAY: WHAT DID I SAY I WAS DOING LAST WEEK? SHIT. ABROAD’S PANTRIES? DID I HAVE A PLAN FOR THAT? UMMMMM. WE COULD DO LIKE, ISRAEL, I GUESS. OR THE LEVANT? SURE. LET’S DO THE LEVANT, A REGION NOT IN ANY WAY OBSCURE ENOUGH THAT I’LL HAVE TO EXPLAIN WHAT THE HELL IT IS.

MONDAY: OH, DEAR, IT’S ALMOST VALENTINE’S DAY. I GUESS I HAVE TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT CAN BE MISTAKEN FOR ROMANTIC. TUNE IN THURSDAY TO FIND OUT WHAT.

 

Recipe

Mixed-Up Muhammara

 

Ingredients

2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded

1 cup walnuts

1.5 oz whole wheat pita, torn up

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 clove garlic, peeled

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 tsp Aleppo Pepper, or ½ tsp Cayenne

¾ tsp salt (I don’t know why, but this was the ONE measurement both recipes agreed on)

 

Preparation

1.       Place aluminum foil on a baking sheet. Preheat your broiler, with an oven rack in the top position.  Place halved peppers skin side up on the baking sheet, pressing down a little. Broil roughly 9 minutes, until blackened. Remove from the oven, wrap the peppers in the foil, and let sit for 10 minutes. (This softens the skins for easier removal). Remove and discard skins.

2.       Toast the walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, roughly 5-7 minutes.

3.       Place all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse up to 10 times, scraping the bowl if needed.

4.       Move to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before serving.

5.       If desired, you can top with more salt, some lemon juice, parsley, or more cayenne, to taste.