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Mediterranean mezze feast – Part 2 : Muhammara and the fastest flatbread in the west

Once upon a time, in a world where phones were used to place calls, airplane flights cost more than bus tickets, and long before Ottolenghi made vegetables cool, I decided to become a vegetarian. I was a teenager, and being different from the pack seemed to me like the coolest thing I could do. I had just begun learning to cook, and having to handle meat myself made it very clear to me, and very quickly, that I was a vegetable kind of gal. It also seemed to upset the entire team at my high school, and that was fine by me.

I started flicking through every vegetarian cookbook I could find (spoiler alert : not as many as today), dived deep into the world of food blogs, and googled vegetarian restaurants everywhere I went. Let me go straight to the point and tell you what came out of this two years long journey into Meatless Earth : a serious case of chickpea overdose. If you’ve been there, you’ll know. Chickpea burger at every joint, chickpea crêpe in every cookbook, “hey there’s hummus for the vegetarians” at every party, and I’ve even seen chickpea cookies, and chickpea chocolate spread popping up lately. Don’t even get me started on the chickpea brownies.

From this sad sad story, came my life-long love for cooking : I decided to take matters into my own hands and learned to cook. TA-DA, THE END.

Now on to today’s point : here is a dip you can make for the vegetarians (and meat-eaters) you love, that is not based on chickpeas. I promise they will love you back for it. Muhammara is a middle-eastern dip made of burned red peppers, pomegranate molasses, garlic, and walnuts. It is smoky, rich, and tangy, everything I love. Here I use balsamic vinegar and a bit of maple syrup as I find pomegranate molasses hard to come by, but if you have some, feel free to make the swap.

As a bonus, you’ll find below my favorite recipe for an instant flatbread that needs to rising and works perfectly as a side for curries, stews, or dips like this one.

Hummus : you’re good, you’re creamy, and I like you too, but we’ve seen too much of each other for a while. I just need a break. It’s not you, it’s me.

 

Muhammara

3 big red peppers (or 4 to 5 smaller ones)

1 chopped garlic clove (or two if you’re a garlic fan)

70g walnuts, toasted and chopped

1tbsp balsamic vinegar

1tbsp maple syrup/cane molasses/agave syrup

1tsp cumin

1tsp smoked paprika

2tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

If they fit inside the oven, place your red peppers whole in your pan and slide it inside the oven. If they are too big, simply cut them in half and place them cut side down. Now, listen to me closely and don’t be afraid : burn your peppers, resist the urge to take them out and leave them until the skin is fully blackened. This should take around 10 minutes in an oven at 250°C/300°C. If your oven is cooler or hotter, adjust the cooking time accordingly. And as always, just keep an eye on them : differences in size and moisture can influence the cooking time.

Now would be a good time to bake your flatbreads if you are making them, you’ll find the recipe below.

Once your peppers are burned, let them cool slightly until you can handle them with your hands. Peel the black skin, take out the liquid and the seeds, and place the soft flesh in your mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one or prefer to use a mixer, go ahead and do so, the texture will be slightly different but it will work.

 

Add the garlic and walnuts and start pounding (or blitzing) until you get a coarse but homogeneous paste. You can now add all the other ingredients and pound a bit more until everything is incorporated. Now, taste and adjust : maybe you’d like more cumin, or you may find your peppers were very sweet and a bit of lemon juice would bring some much needed acidity. Trust yourself and your tastebuds, you’re the one eating.

You can eat it warm like this, or place it in the fridge for a few hours and serve it chilled.

 

Fastest flatbread in the west

Although it is no match for a good slow-rise flatbread, this is a handy recipe to have up your sleeve for last minute flatbread needs. Yes, that happens often. The yoghurt used inside makes up for the lack of yeast by bringing that slight tang usually found in fermented doughs. This recipe will make two nice sized breads, or three smaller ones.

200g flour (all purpose works best)

120g yoghurt (any will do, as long as it is not too thick)

1tsp baking powder

1tsp salt

1 tbsp nigella seeds (or any herb or spice that will complement your dish well)

In a bowl, place all the dry ingredients. Make a well and pour your yoghurt inside. Start incorporating it slowly, then once you have a dough, start kneading it. Knead it for approximately 10 minutes or until your dough ball is stretchy and does not tear. Leave it to rest under a towel for ten more minutes, more if you have the time.

With a rolling pin, flatten your dough on your workspace and bake it in the preheated oven (between 250°C and 350°C). It should take one minute or two, don’t let it out of your sight.

These are best eaten straight away, but if you do have to wait leave the breads under a towel so they remain moist and soft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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