Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip with Pomegranate Molasses (Muhammara) is a versatile, savory-sweet dip that is delicious spread on pita, as a dip for veggies, or sauce for kabobs. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and… AMAZING!
Muhammara, or Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip with Pomegranate Molasses, originated in Aleppo, Syria, and its principal ingredients traditionally include red peppers, ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, spices, and olive oil. However, this recipe – inspired by popular local pub fare – omits the bread crumbs, and instead uses roasted carrots to thicken and extend the dip. Not only do the carrots keep this delicious savory-sweet dip gluten-free, but they give it a wonderful creaminess and infuse an earthy sweetness as well.
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Every year, our town hosts the Portland Book Festival [formerly Wordstock], a week-long literary celebration with a mission: to use the power of writing to effect positive change in people’s lives. Some years back, my sister-friend Dottie and I attended the annual Poetry Slam together, and afterwards decided to stop for a little late night nosh at the adjacent Bagdad Pub.
Dottie and I ordered something called “Three Faces of Eve,” [super-fancy hummus plate] and sat down to rehash the slam, poet by poet.
Forty-five minutes later, still no hummus plate. When we finally got our waitress’s attention and she (let’s call her Alice) went to check on our order, only to return frantic and apologizing all over the place. Alice said she had no idea what happened but the kitchen never got our order.
“Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” she asked us – at least seven times. In between apologizing, she kept up a steady train of chatter, trying so hard to be accommodating that it was driving us nuts. All either Dottie or I could think was, “It’s OK, we understand. Really. Just please stop talking.”
Finally, I told Alice what would really make me happy: I wanted the recipe for their roasted red pepper walnut dip. Which I love. LOVE. As in, I have been known to go to this pub solely for the walnut-pomegranate dip. (It is my favorite of Eve’s three faces.)
“Can you get the recipe for me?” I asked, smiling my best ‘you might just be able to salvage your tip’ smile.
“I dunno, but I’ll try.” She didn’t sound very confident, but it gave her something to do besides hover over us like a needy dragonfly.
Ten minutes later, Alice emerged from the back with a big grin, waving piece of white paper. My recipe! I was so happy I almost got misty. I had literally been wanting this recipe for years! I scanned it briefly before I returned to Dottie and our conversation, and it was a good thing I did! Because somewhere between the booth at the Bagdad and my front door, that little slip of paper completely disappeared.
Luckily, I have a knack for remembering printed text pretty well, so I wasn’t really panicked. I was pretty sure I had the complete list of ingredients memorized, including basic ratios. In the long run, losing it wasn’t entirely a bad thing, because it forced me to really work each this recipe out for myself, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results!
Muhammara (Red Pepper & Walnut Dip with Pomegranate Molasses)
- 1 pound carrots peeled and cut into 2" pieces
- 1 large red pepper cored, seeded, and cut into eighths
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 cup walnuts about 4 ounces
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika or sumac
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or 1/2 tsp regular red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses plus more for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 cup warm water
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Cover a baking sheet pan with a Silpat mat or parchment paper and spread the prepared vegetables out in a single layer. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over vegetables and toss to coat. Season vegetables lightly with kosher salt and ground cumin.
- Roast vegetable in preheated oven for 45 minutes, turning once halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once vegetables are cool, remove peel from red peppers.
- Heat walnuts in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes, or until nuts are golden brown and smell toasty. Walnuts burn easily in a skillet, so be sure to stir constantly to ensure even toasting until the nuts turn a rich, golden brown. Remove walnuts from skillet and set aside.
- In the same skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Turn off burner, add the cumin and paprika, and stir in hot oil until fragrant - just a few seconds. Allow to cool slightly.
Put it all together!
- Put all ingredients into a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Serve with warm pita triangles, celery sticks, carrot sticks, or whatever makes you happy.
- Aleppo Peppers: Named after the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Aleppo dried pepper flakes are traditionally used in Muhammara. Aleppo pepper flakes are about half as hot as crushed red chili flakes, and according to some, twice as flavorful. Aleppo pepper flakes can be found in specialty markets or online.
- Carrots: Carrots are not a traditional ingredient in muhammara; however, this recipe uses carrots in place of breadcrumbs to thicken and extend the dip. For this recipe, I chose to roast the carrots before blending them into the dip, instead of simply boiling them as my original notes indicated. Not only do the roasted carrots pair perfectly with the walnut-pomegranate flavors to make this savory-sweet dip gluten-free, but they give it a wonderful creaminess as well.
- Pomegranate Molasses: Probably the most unusual ingredient in this recipe, pomegranate molasses is a household staple in many Middle Eastern kitchens. It has a truly unique flavor, and can be used for glazes, salad dressings, and even barbecuing. You can find it at specialty stores or online. And before you even ask: no, here is no good substitute for it.
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Originally Posted June 2013.1