20 November 2012

Muhammara Stew

I love nuts. I have always liked nuts, but as an adult I have come to crave their crunch and deep, buttery flavor brought out from toasting. As a child I remember watching my mom enjoy a spoonful of peanut butter after dinner sometimes, but at the time I didn't understand what was so great about it. Now, I cook with nuts all of the time. I rarely make a salad without them, they are never excluded from my granola or oatmeal, I love using almond flour when baking and often experiment with nut bases for sauces, stews, and dips. With their healthy fats, gorgeous flavor, and versatility in the kitchen, what's not to love.

Walnuts are front and center today. They are combined with roasted red peppers and a few other important ingredients* to make Muhammara, a sauce that provides smoky, sweet, and nutty base notes for this stew. Muhammara is a traditional Middle Eastern dip for pita but is now used in various ways throughout the Middle East. I first made Muhammara for Aari's pasta dish which inspired me to turn the sauce into a stew.

By the way, you are really getting two recipes for one here. Muhammara is excellent on its' own tossed with pasta, used as a dip for vegetables and pita, or spooned over grilled fish. But when it is combined with red lentils, chunky vegetables, and chickpeas it becomes a very satisfying and cozy winter meal. If you make the Muhammara a day ahead, the meal will come together even quicker.

*Pomegranate molasses is a really special ingredient in the Muhammara. In fact it's a special ingredient period. It is made by boiling down juice from a tart variety of pomegranates until a thick syrup is formed. It can be found in whole foods stores and Middle Eastern markets, and a few teaspoons in a dish give a unique sweet-tart flavor that just cannot be replicated by anything else.  It is also highly versatile and among other things it can be used in vinaigrettes,  stirred into rich soups, and drizzled over ice cream.

Muhammara Stew

Serves 6-8

Notes: Unfortunately you cannot see the red lentils in the dish, but they still serve a purpose in my opinion by adding a bit of texture (provided they are not overcooked) and heft to the sauce as well as additional protein and fiber. However, a nice variation would be to swap out the lentils for 1 cup of cooked yellow split peas, stirred in at the last minute.

2 Tbsp. walnut oil (or olive oil)
1 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red chili (sometimes called Fresno), chopped
1 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. chili powder
4 medium carrots, sliced thinly on a diagonal
4 cups vegetable stock, divided (or half water, half stock)
3/4 cup red lentils
1oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 small-medium sized zucchini, halved lengthwise, then halved again and chopped into large bite size pieces
1 head of cauliflower, florets separated into bite size pieces
1 recipe of Muhamarra (see recipe below)
Juice of 1 lemon
Big handful cilantro, chopped

In the largest high-sided saute pan that you own (I love this one), saute onions and chili in oil over medium heat until onions begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add the three spices, garlic, and carrots and cook for several minutes until  the spices are fragrant (add a little more oil at this point if the pan looks dry). Season with salt and pepper, then add two cups vegetable stock and lentils, turn heat to medium-high, cover with lid, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have soaked up most of the stock  and the carrots have softened slightly. 

Add remaining two more cups stock along with the chickpeascauliflower, zucchini, and Muhamarra. Cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, depending on how big you cut the vegetables. You want the vegetables to still have a little bite to them when you are finished cooking.

Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with cooked quinoa or rice. And if you are so inclined, pass pomegranate molasses and/or chopped walnuts at the table.

*You may need to have a heavier hand when seasoning if using water only.

Adapted from Aari's Muhammara Pasta recipe

Notes: If you make this as a stand alone sauce for pasta or a dip, add a few tablespoons of walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil to the mixture before blending.

6 jarred, roasted red peppers
1 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses
2 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
Juice of half a juicy lemon
2 garlic cloves

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days if making ahead of time. 

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