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Posts Tagged ‘dips’

Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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Zatar. Not many of my friends have heard of this wonderful stuff, so I often serve it as an app at dinner parties to spread the good word. So what is it?

It’s generally a mixture of toasted sesame seeds. . .

Sesame seeds.

. . .and very finely ground dried herbs and spices.

Herbs in their dried and finely ground form are another key ingredient in zatar.

There are probably as many iterations of zatar as their are towns in the Middle East. (For that matter, there are several different ways to spell it: zatar, zahtar, zaa’tar, and so on). Herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary, to name but a few, can find their way into the mix.

The most fun place to buy zatar? In my opinion, it’s at the spice market or a specialty foods store with spice bins. You can find it online, of course. But as for spice markets, here’s a pic of one in Istanbul:

A spice market in Istanbul. Not Constantinople ;-)

So here’s the lore on zatar. It’s filling, but won’t weigh you down. (Wow, that sounds kinda beer-ad-sloganesque!) Students often eat it before exams for energy and alterness. It’s cleansing and aids digestion, which is why some people swear by it as a weight loss aid. It can help you out if you’re feeling unwell. (Again, the whole cleansing thing).

There are many ways one can use zatar. For example, a popular way to enjoy it is as a topping on warm pita. I like to sprinkle it on salads and roasted vegetables. Most often, though, I make a quick zatar dip. It’s simple.

Zatar, just before I chopped and added a clove of fresh garlic to the dip.

This is how I make the dip: I pour some zatar in a small, shallow bowl. I pour olive oil on top of the zatar, and mix well. Then I put fresh pieces of chopped garlic bits on top. Yes, I eat raw garlic sometimes. I happen to really love it. Don’t knock it–it’s a very good immune system boost. Just make sure to enjoy it with like-minded people. Or alone!

Call this dip a triple threat: I’ve eaten this dip as an appetizer, as part of brunch or breakfast, or alone for dinner. Well, not completely alone–with some pita for dipping.

Some people like the dip more oily, and less pasty. My personal preference is to let the zatar stand out, while the olive oil binds it all together. Otherwise, you have an olive oil dip flavored with zatar, not a zatar dip with some olive oil. Of course, adjust the thickness of the dip to your preference. If you end up with too much oil, add more zatar. If you end up with too much zatar, simply add more oil.

One very important note: Many zatar mixes are pre-salted, so keep this in mind if you’re adding it to recipes.

Have fun! Feel free to share some of your zatar uses with me in the comments.

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The weather is cooling down where I live, and when this happens, I generally prefer that my food have a nice roasty and toasty flavor. Which makes now the perfect time to post the other version of muhamarra dip–the much-loved red bell pepper, walnut, and pomegranate dip popular throughout many countries of the Middle East.

In a previous post we explored the taste of Raw Muhammara by making the dip with all raw ingredients–bell peppers, garlic, walnuts, and so on. The raw version looks something like this:

Raw muhammara dip

Raw Muhammara dip has a lighter color than the cooked version of the dip. Both are beautiful!

For today’s version, you can roast your own bell peppers (not the best idea if you have, as I do, a tendency to walk away from the stove in an effort to multi-task). Or you can grab some jarred roasted bell peppers. Just make sure to rinse them well before using, and leave any brand that includes corn syrup in its ingredient list on the shelf. Here’s the jar I currently have on hand:

Roasted jarred bell peppers.

If roasting bell peppers by hand isn't your thing, pick up a jar at the store. Make sure to rinse well before using.

I’ve also included an optional ingredient that can really boost the smokey flavor of the dip. Personally, I like a smokey flavor in this dip. It reminds me of evenings in front of the fireplace when I was growing up. The ingredient? Liquid smoke. It’s pretty cool. Or should I say, warm? The brand I prefer is, and I quote

all-natural. . .Vegan, contains no animal byproducts, and is gluten free.

How do they make it?

Colgin Liquid Smoke is not a chemical or synthetic flavor – but genuine wood smoke “liquefied.” The wood is placed in large retorts where intense heat is applied, causing the wood to smolder (not burn).

I swear this isn’t a shameless product endorsement. The folks at Colgin haven’t greased my palm for mentioning their product. Here’s what it looks like.

Yummy liquid smoke.

Liquid smoke. All natural, believe it or not! A little of this goes a long way, so one bottle will last quite awhile.

For the record, there are many other great brands of liquid smoke on store shelves. It varies from region to region. Look on the aisle of your local store where spices and extracts are sold.

Now for the recipe.

Muhamarra Dip–Lightly Cooked Version

3-4 Large pre-roasted bell peppers (from a jar), rinsed thoroughly

11/2 Cups walnuts pieces or halves. Unsalted is best.

2-3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, or paste or molasses

2-3 garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

1/2 Teaspoon of ground cumin

Pinch of salt (to taste)

Drizzle of olive oil (a Tablespoon or two)

Dash of Liquid Smoke (optional)

Instructions:

Lightly toast the nuts and the whole garlic cloves on the stovetop in a skillet over medium low. Turn the nuts and garlic frequently so they don’t burn on one side. When their color deepens and the nutty fragrance begins to come through, they’re ready. Remove them from heat immediately.

Or, alternatively:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Spread walnuts and the garlic cloves  in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until lightly browned and fragrant. (The scent will tell you when they’re ready). To be on the safe side and avoid burning, you can set a timer for 5 minutes and check them, turning them at this time.

Optional step for an extra smokey flavor–mix in the ground cumin and toast for 30 seconds before removing the skillet from the heat or the pan from the oven.

Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth and silky. Adjust seasoning, lemon, and olive oil to taste.  Re-blend if needed. That’s it!

The dip will thicken if refrigerated. Serve with pita bread and/or raw or roasted veggies.

NOTE: You might be tempted to add more liquid to get the ingredients to meld and blend. If you choose to do so, just go very slowly. You can always add more liquid, but it’s hard to get the dip to thicken up if it’s become too watery. Hey now–Don’t toss it if you find it too watery. Give it a chance to thicken up in the fridge. Or use it as a sauce, sandwich spread, and/or salad dressing.

Enjoy!

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I love dips. They’re such fun. Great for sharing, great for eating alone. And hey, eating them alone means it’s okay to double dip! They’re wonderful for an energizing and tasty snack and perfect as part of a meal. Sometimes the ingredients that make up a dip are truly beautiful together. Separate them, and perhaps they’re lovely in their own way. Maybe. . .

Today we’re making a Raw Muhamarra dip recipe. (More on that later). First, confession time: I’m generally not a huge fan of one of today’s dip’s main ingredient. Bell peppers.

Beautiful, but not always my fave

Beautiful, but not always my fave

To me, their flavor tends to dominate a dish. If I order a veggie pizza or a salad, for example, I’ll ask them to leave bell pepps out of the mix if at all possible.  Even bell peppers that aren’t organically grown seem to have that dominating taste fully intact.

So why then, do I love them so much in today’s dip, Muhammara? Maybe because they marry so well with fresh walnuts, pomegranate, and a dash of cumin. Perhaps the other ingredients bring out the best in the peppers, and maybe even vice versa. What can I say? Life is full of mysteries, no?

An aside. It’s funny to think of how strong that bell pepper flavor can be, especially when you consider how other garden goodies often lose their taste completely when they’re mass-produced. True story: Until visiting Syria, I was under the impression that I hated apricots. To me, they were flavorless, mealy, and bland. A total waste of time! A season of locally grown Syrian apricots disabused me of that notion. They were similar in texture to a ripe peach or nectarine, and so fragrant and juicy! But back stateside, such tender and tasty apricots are nearly impossible to find, at least in my experience.

So this is my convoluted way of saying: Bell peppers must be pretty darn strong to resist the forces of mass production. Other produce isn’t so lucky. Paging tomatoes and store-bought apples!

The one place where I truly LOVE bell peppers is in Muhammara dip. Today’s version looks something like this. Google around, and you’ll see that some recipes are darker in color.

Muhammara dip. A great use of bell peppers.

Muhammara dip. A great use of bell peppers.

This dip is a staple in countires like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. Here’s my recipe for a fully raw Muhamarra dip. I’ll post the (lightly) cooked version soon, so that you can compare and decide which one you like best. For the record, this dip makes a fantastic salad dressing when thinned out with a bit of water.

Bonus: Bell peppers are in season now, and I got mine from the farmer’s market. They were so sweet and almost too beautiful to eat!

Raw Muhamarra Dip

3 Cups red bell pepper chunks (usually from about 2 large peppers, or 4 smaller ones)

11/2 Cups raw walnuts

2-3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, or paste or molasses (if using the paste or a store-bought, jarred pom juice, it’s not strictly raw, just FYI)

2-3 garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

1/2 Teaspoon of ground cumin

Pinch of salt (to taste)

Drizzle of olive oil (a Tablespoon or two)

Instructions: Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth and silky. Adjust seasoning, lemon, and olive oil to taste.  Re-blend if needed. That’s it!

The dip will thicken if refrigerated. Serve with raw veggies. Slices of fresh zucchini are my favorite.

NOTE: You might be tempted to add more liquid to get the ingredients to meld and blend. If you choose to do so, just go very slowly. You can always add more liquid, but it’s hard to get the dip to thicken up if it’s become too watery. Hey now–Don’t toss it if you find it too watery. Give it a chance to thicken up in the fridge. Or use it as a sauce, sandwich spread, and/or salad dressing.

Enjoy!

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