Alice Waters's Swiss Chard Gratin
Cooking For A New Family

Donna Deane's Muhammara


It takes a particular breed of nut to roast peppers when it's 93 degrees out and humidity hangs in the air like the fug in the monkey house at the zoo. Am I such a nut? Apparently, dear reader, I am.

Here's the thing. I wanted to get rid of some walnuts that have been cluttering my pantry for far too long. Because, oof, I hate food clutter. I have a quarter cup of Arborio rice just sitting in the cupboard - it's been there for months - but I simply haven't been in the mood for risotto (who is, in the summer?) and haven't yet gotten around to insalata di riso (oh, but I should, if only for your sakes' - you must be told about insalata di riso) and so the rice sits there, irritating me to no end, staring at me every time I open the door like it's taunting me or something.

Anyway, the walnuts. I found a recipe in my file that combines walnuts and my new love, Aleppo pepper (I just like repeating Aleppo, Aleppo over and over in my head, it's quite addictive), and bread crumbs and red peppers  into a Middle Eastern condiment (huh, yeah, more on that in about a minute) which works well as a dip or a sandwich spread or simply as something you dip the end of your roast lamb kebab into as you eat. Just the ticket, I thought. Along with some cold cucumber spears, warmed pita bread, and perhaps a salad, I suddenly couldn't imagine a better summer dinner.

But about 15 minutes into roasting the peppers, I questioned my sanity. Who turns the oven on in weather like this? Come on now. I couldn't back out, though: we were hungry and there wasn't much else to eat in the house, and those darn walnuts were sitting on the counter looking so pleasingly doomed, so I gritted my teeth, mopped my brow and waited it out.

I'm glad I did. The muhammara, as the concoction is called, is like an Arab version of romesco - rusty-red, full of warmth from the pepper and spice and body from the nuts. We dipped our cucumbers into it, spread it on chewy pita, Ben might have even taken his fork to the stuff, though I'm not entirely sure (what I do know is he said, "oh my God, this is good" about five times), when suddenly it was gone. Gone. We ate an entire batch of this stuff for dinner. A condiment! For dinner. Am I the only one slightly shocked, appalled, impressed by this?

I read, the day after this astonishing display of gluttony, that Donna Deane - she of the apricot tart, the curried chicken salad, this muhammara (and countless other recipes that I haven't made my way through yet) - had been let go from the LA Times. I know I won't be the only one to miss her recipes.

Makes 2 1/3 cups

3 large red bell peppers
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1. Roast the red peppers on a rack over the burner on a gas stove or on a grill until blackened and blistered all over, about 10 minutes. Once they are roasted remove them from the rack to a paper bag and let stand until they are cool enough to handle.

2. Remove all the charred skin from the peppers, and remove the stems and seeds.

3. Combine roasted peppers, garlic, crushed cumin seeds, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses in a food processor and process until almost smooth. Add the walnuts and bread crumbs and process until chunky smooth.

4. Add the salt, Aleppo pepper and olive oil and process just until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It can be refrigerated for up to three days.