Many people are familiar with baba ghanoush, but very few have heard of muhammara, Middle Eastern red pepper and walnut dip. I recently discovered muhammara at a local Lebanese restaurant. It seems there are as many versions of baba ghanoush as there are restaurants. I used to live in Brooklyn and every Middle Eastern restaurant that I ate at had their own take on baba ghanoush.
The photo above shows baba ghanoush on romaine leaves, flanking the red muhammara in the middle. I prepared this meal in late summer, buying the red peppers, eggplant and potatoes at my local farmer's market. I garnished it with olives. It's served with boiled red-skinned potatoes and drizzled throughout with pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is also the "secret ingredient" in the muhammara. It seems that pomegranate molasses and all things pomegranate are very much in fashion in the United States. Why not? Their translucent ruby colored arils ('seeds') are beautiful, they're tasty and their juice is high in antioxidants. Pomegranates have been a major part of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diet since ancient times.
I think the secret to making great baba ghanoush and muhammara is to roast the eggplant and red peppers over a BBQ fire that has hickory or applewood chips smoking in the coals. My husband is still a carnivore, so when he BBQs himself a steak he also roasts the eggplant and red peppers for me. He enjoys the baba ganoush and muhammara, too!
I usually don't follow any recipes for making the baba ghanoush or muhammara as I have made them many times and like to vary them up a bit every time I make them (i.e. I may use less oil, tahini or walnuts than called for, or I may use hemp seed oil or pumpkin seed oil for part of the olive oil).
Following is a good recipe for a Greek version of baba ghanoush where they substitute walnuts for tahini. I found this at epicurious.com:
"Eggplant Puree with Walnuts (baba ghanoush)
- 2 large eggplants
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Wash the eggplants and pat dry. Puncture the skin in several places with a fork. Place on an ungreased pan and bake for about 25 minutes, turning, until the skin is blistered and shriveled. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes, until easy to handle.
2. While the eggplants are roasting, pulse the garlic, walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil together in a food processor until ground and pastelike.
3. Cut off the stem and cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape out the pulp, discarding as many of the seeds as possible. Add the eggplant, a little at a time, to the bowl of the food processor and pulse on and off. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and remaining olive oil and pulse until well combined. The eggplant puree does not have to be perfectly smooth. Season with salt and add a bit of sugar if necessary, as eggplants sometimes impart a trace of bitterness.
Diane Kochilas shares her tips with Epicurious: • This version of the traditional eggplant spread melitzanosalata is from the north of Greece. Its similarity to the Middle Eastern dip baba ghanoush is due to the Turkish influence in Greek cuisine. • In Greece, hunks of country bread are traditionally dipped into this spread. Toasted pita is not as traditional but makes an equally delicious accompaniment."