Muhammara, revisited

I don’t know why or when it hit me, but the other day, as I was laying in bed after lunch, I realized I had been struck with a case of homesickness. My stomach was in knots and my thoughts floated home, across the Atlantic. We were told by the Fulbright committee during our pre-departure orientation that this is common; I wasn’t worried. This period of longing, however gloomy, gave me time to clear my thoughts and get other work done. I took a trip with friends to the outskirts of Aleppo and also worked on programming — behind the scenes geeky stuff that secretly makes me happy.

sunset in the outskirts of Aleppo

As for my blog, I think it has also benefited from this period of thinking and rethinking. It has planted in me a new seed of enthusiasm and great ideas.

I consider my blog my baby. As of today, it is 3 years and 5 months old. It may sound strange to those who don’t blog, but I feel my blog has evolved over the years and has made me grow in ways I had never anticipated. My blog opened my eyes to web design and web development; it continuously fuels my immense passion for photography. My blog connects me to wonderful people and encourages me to try new foods and food techniques. It offers me a creative space to write and express my feelings in words, pictures, and videos. And although I have on-and-off spells where I feel unmotivated to produce, this is something I’ve realized is a part of life. I have learned to grow from these bursts of inspiration and grapple with the moments when my mind wanders and my stomach is in knots.

One of the things that makes food blogging so appealing, I think, is the community it is built on. When I write a blog and post it on this tiny corner of the internet, I feel I am sharing stories and experiences with friends gathered around my dining room table. It’s an amazing feeling. It is real and intimate and funny and mushy and I love it. This is a metaphor that has stuck with me from early on, and one that has kept me focused on what my blog means to me. Thank you, always, for your encouragement.

Today, in celebration of rethinking, I want to share with you a recipe that I’ve blogged about before: Muhammara, a rich and tangy Middle Eastern spread of red peppers and chopped walnuts. It’s a spread that should never be missing from your refrigerator. My aunt cleans red peppers and keeps them in a bag in her freezer for on-the-fly muhammara. It’s a spread that you can put together in 5 minutes and tastes better if you prepare it the day before. The flavors meld and food magic happens. In Aleppo muhammara is commonly served as a side platter as part of the mezze spread, but I put in on almost everything. Sandwiches being my favorite so far. Just a light smear on the bread does the trick. Try it, and let me know.

In the olden days, muhammara used to be considered a spread for royalty and the wealthy upperclass because of the ingredients required to make it. Walnuts and red peppers still aren’t cheap, but have become more accessible. Today the amount of walnuts you add to your muhammara has even become a pseudo status symbol.

Since we’re friends, and I know you won’t laugh (OK, you could laugh a little bit), I’ve also dug up this old video of me making muhammara for a Food Network audition. The video was filmed and produced by my very talented friend, Marilyn Rivchin, Senior Lecturer of Filmmaking at Cornell University. I didn’t get the part, but this clip reminds me of how much I love cooking.

The ingredients for this muhammara are mostly the same as the last recipe I posted, but my aunt taught me to add a dash of sugar to the spicy dip. It’s not traditional, but it works. It rounds out the spiciness of the pepper paste and balances the tang of the pomegranate molasses. I added it as an optional ingredient in the recipe.

mise en place
mise en place
chopped walnuts + kaak (كعك)
walnuts and kaak
clean peppers, inside and out
cleaning red peppers
red pepper puree
red pepper puree
pomegranate molasses
pomegranate molasses
extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
muhammara (محمرة)
typical mezze spread
mezze spread

Muhammara (محمّرة)

yields approx 1 cup


  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup kaak, finely ground
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, additional for garnish
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 3 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3 Tbsp spicy red pepper paste
  • 1 tsp sugar, optional
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Fire-roast two of the peppers until the exterior is charred. Steam them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 5-7 minutes. Peel and discard the seeds.
  2. Pulse the kaak in a food processor until finely ground. Set aside.
  3. Chop the remaining red pepper into large chunks, discard the seeds. Puree the fresh and roasted peppers in the food processor until smooth.
  4. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients together, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. To serve, spread the muhammara into a shallow dish, drizzle with additional extra virgin olive oil and garnish with toasted walnuts. Enjoy with warm pita bread!

Notes: You can find kaak in most Mediterranean or Middle Eastern markets, but breadcrumbs are a suitable substitute. Adjust the red pepper paste and Aleppo pepper for spiciness.


In my early days of experimenting with muhammara in Aleppo, I came up with this simple snack that I now eat on a regular basis. It’s simple and incredibly delicious: a slice of Aleppan Mortadella, topped with a dollop of creamy hummus, and a kiss of spicy muhammara seals the deal. Enjoy!

my favorite snack
mortadella, hummus, muhammara snack

34 thoughts on “Muhammara, revisited

  1. Woww… I can’t believe you have been blogging for more than 13 years. I have been at it for only six months now, and I can’t imagine being without my blog. It is an extension and a personal discovery. Also it’s like everything you do, see, eat, experience is in relation to my blog now. It’s like sitting in a cafe and sharing with your readers.
    As for muhammara, we always used to have some in the fridge, made by an Armenian friend when I used to live in Beirut. She used to bring me some when I was living in London and when I go back to Beirut, it is always a must on the table.
    Great recipe and photos and easy to do. Thanks 🙂

  2. Hi Tony,

    I envy you for being in Halab, I just love Syrian food and Halabi food has its own reputation for being great!

    Muhammara is one of my favorite mezze but like many Middle Eastern dishes, there’s always several versions. Personally, I like mine a little on the sweet side and less on the spicy side. Does the pomegranate molasses gives it that sweetness?

    Also, in many recipes I’ve read, the red peppers are usually roasted but I noticed that you keep yours raw. No doubt its healthier but I’m interested in knowing why you kept it raw. Does roasting it lessen the strong flavor of peppers (something I’d personally prefer).

    Thank you!

  3. Thanks, Bahaa!

    Mich: No, no I’ve only been blogging for 3 years 😀 I don’t think I knew what a blog was 13 years ago hehe. I’m curious, did your Armenian friend have a different spin on Muhammara? As HJ mentioned, there are so many variations of this dish… it would be interesting to trace how Muhammara has evolved within different communities in the Middle East and across the Mediterranean.

    Hi HJ, thanks for the comment! There are so many variations for this dish, it’s hard to keep track of them all. The pomegranate molasses does add sweetness, but it also introduces a bit of acidity, which is why my aunt adds that dash of sugar.
    Most of the Syrian and Lebanese versions of Muhammara I’ve heard of are made with raw red peppers. I’ve even eaten some that are made with only ground dried red peppers (similar to paprika), but I didn’t like the flavor or texture as much as the ones made with actual red bell peppers. I’ve heard of, but never tried the roasted pepper variation — if I’m not mistaken, this is how they make it in Turkey. You actually end up with a more pronounced, but also sweeter, pepper flavor by roasting the peppers since the roasting process concentrates the flavors and caramelizes some of the natural sugars in the peppers. On the other hand, you also lose the refreshing, raw flavor of the peppers, which I personally enjoy. Plus, it adds an extra step to the recipe hehe. If you try the roasted version though, I’d love to know what you think about it 🙂

  4. When I lived in Halab, we added some garlic to our Muhamara…

    I am jealous, I wish I was there too… Enjoy your trip.

  5. Hi Tony,
    I loved your post, Muhammara is one of my favorites. My family traditionally has always used the jarred roasted red pepper and it’s wonderful. I will however try this version with the raw red peppers. Thanks so much for sharing, I hope you post again soon.

  6. Thank you for this great post! My family and I are from Halab and we usually add lemon juice, and tahine (sesame paste) along with all the other ingredients you mentioned. You should try it, its great!

  7. marhaba..your work and blog are much appreciated.I always thought that the red peppers had to be roasted and then skinned for this exquisite spread?

  8. hi tony!

    first time commenting on your blog, but certainly not the first time i’ve visited and fallen in love with the recipes. i’m Palestinian-American (now living in Australia), and constantly inspired by the flavors and aromas of our heritage. this muhammara looks delicious, and the hands in the photos look like my Teta’s, as if she were making it.

    i’ve just started blogging as well, and though i’m only a month into it, i find it as invigorating, humbling and community-driven as you describe it to be.

    thanks for the mid-east representation 🙂

  9. I have been following your blog for a while now. It’s fantastic-on every count. Presentation, charm, great writing voice and, of course, food! It’s been lovely following your posts from Syria, too.

    I’ll be preparing muhammara tonight, following your instructions!

    Love the video clip. Just goes to show one never knows about life. You got a Fulbright instead of a Food Network show (at least for know!). Much better opportunity and a stepping stone to grander, spicier things.

    Are you considering combining more formal academic studies (food history, sociology, what have you…) with cooking somehow.

    I look forward to keeping up with your work over the years…thanks for sharing with us!


  10. Hi Paula: thank you for the comment and compliments on my blog. I am considering formal training in anthropology, perhaps a masters, since my background is in math and economics. I took a course called anthropology of food in college where I developed an academic interest in the intersection of food and culture, particularly in the Mediterranean region. I would also like to incorporate blogs and other forms of social media into my studies as they’ve served as practical and dynamic platforms for cross-cultural dialogue to take place.

  11. Wishing you luck in all your endeavors-you won’t need it though!

    And you have built a global community eager to follow, learn and taste in years to come!

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question….


  12. For the record:

    Muhamara is through and through strictly from Aleppo.

    It is of late that it started crossing borders and as with all recipes, variations and ownership start cropping up.

    Your Aunt is right on the money as Sugar is indeed part of the original recipe.

    Very nice Blog.

  13. Just discovered your wonderful blog..I have am looking for a fatayer bi flehfleh recipe that is from Aleppo …will you post one for it..thank you

  14. Hi Alex, in Aleppo I’ve mostly heard it called fatayer flehfleh. I have it at least 4 times a week, usually for breakfast. I love it! I typically order one cheese and one flefleh fatayer and fold them together; the combination is delicious. I will work on getting a recipe on my blog up for you–tikram 🙂

  15. ok people still make these at home and send them out to be baked ? homemade ones are usually better!

  16. lovely things you have here- what an amazing experience it must living in Syria and discovering their culinary cultures/traditions. x shayma

  17. Just found out about your blog. Congratulations. Good job at documentation of our food (Turath). I love your stories and recipes.
    Have you ever tried the Muhammara without Ka3k?. My mother used only walnut ,never with ka3k or bread crumbs..otherwise very same recipe.
    Thanks for posting I love to cook( our food).
    Keep up the good work. I am proud of you.

  18. I made the muhammara , using roasted red peppers in a jar, came out pretty good, just to simplify. ssurely the use of fresh peppers roasted is great , but this substitution also very good.
    Thanks for your blog.I am of aleppo origine, living in the USA

  19. I was taught how to make muhammara from a Syrian Chef who used a salted chili sauce that he brought with him from Syria. It was bright red, chunky, salt and spicy with the seeds and looked kind of like Chinese doubanjiang(minus the beans). I never caught the name of the sauce, any idea what it might be called? Also, if you’re using fresh chilies, do you use Aleppo peppers?

  20. Hi Antonia
    been in the US for over 30 years , born in Beirut, with a huge family in Aleppo , which has whittled down considerably with all the troubles since the 70’s and 80’s,very happy to have found your blog, was looking for the morttadela recipe my Mom used to make and yours is very close , thank you for that, and Muhamara she made she used a very specific type of pepper and paste all either made at home or store bought from a specific store,the peppers in the Image you have above do not look like bell peppers, what kind are they?flehfleh Halaby? they do sell similar looking peppers here but would like to hear your advice. thank you for a wonderful blog and great info to keep in touch with our heritage.

  21. i don’t remember exactly when I have discovered this blog, many years ago..and forgot i am french educated and took me more concentration and less pleasure in reading English..then I forgot it…I think it was before 2011. But now, as I stay more and more often in Beirut and as the” Syrian revolution” happened and as we have more and more Syrian friends …and eat Syrian food. I discover Syrian people, Syrian Culture, Syrian painters, Syrian handcraft…and some Syrian vocabulary I like so much…Now M. Tahhan, I am happy to read you from times to times. I will do the effort to read English. Just would like to add that a Lebanese woman, an anthropologist worked on Lebanese food and especially “Lebanese moone”. She teaches at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in France and maybe is a member of CRNS. I don’t think that she is published in English but in French, akid…anyway, I will try the muhammara asap.Have a nice day Aleppo..nawal

  22. Hello Nawal! Thank you for re-visiting my blog. How did the muhammara turn out? I am particularly interested in mouneh/moone, both as a preservation technique and a social tradition. Do you have the name of the Lebanese anthropologist who does this work? I’m familiar with Barbara Massaad’s work in this field. I love her book, Mouneh. I hope you’re doing well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *