I first heard about the dip/spread/relish mahammar a couple of years ago when it was a hot item on Washington, D.C., tables. However, I did not get around to trying it until I was reading Joan Nathan's award-winning cookbook "New American Cooking." Nathan, who credits her recipe to a Syrian native, makes the dip year-round, substituting dried cranberries when pomegranates are not in season. I've done that, too. I love this blend of red bell pepper, olives, walnuts, garlic, mint leaves and fruit, often taking it to parties, where both vegetarians and carnivores hang around it. True story: One night, the hostess, a cookbook author, kept dipping into the bowl, trying to discern the flavors. I offered to leave the leftovers. The next thing I knew she had covered the dish and was detouring guests from it or parceling out single bites to good friends. I had to laugh. I like it that much, too. (Tip: The queso crowd usually does not appreciate this spread as much as people who enjoy ethnic flavors.) For dippers we use plain pita chips, homemade or store-bought. But some brands of the latter tend to break when scooping. Ease that problem by tucking a little wooden serving spoon into the dip.
2 red bell peppers, piths and seeds removed, quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Dash of cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. pomegranate syrup (See note.)
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped black Greek-style olives, optional
Toasted pita bread
Put the peppers and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the peppers are in little pieces.
Add the walnuts, bread crumbs, cayenne pepper and salt and pulse a few times until the walnuts are processed but still have some crunch to them.
Stir in the olive oil and pomegranate syrup. Adjust the seasonings and gently fold in the fresh pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries), mint and olives. Place in a serving bowl with toasted pita bread or chips for dippers. Makes 2 cups.
Note: Pomegranate syrup is available in Middle Eastern stores such as Phoenicia.
–"New American Cooking' by Joan Nathan
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