With all the stressful energy in the world today cooking is my therapy, so in the spirit of expanding my thinking to include the unfamiliar here are two very simple and delicious recipes from other cultures.😀 Plus, both can be frozen so you can enjoy the bright flavor of summer throughout the winter (if we ever have one here in California!
Muhammara hails from Syria and is a roasted sweet pepper and walnut spread that is to die for! The special ingredient that makes it so unique is Pomegranate molasses, available in most stores with a good ethnic food section. Our local health food store carries it and I live in a tiny rural town so you should be able to find it. I made a few adaptations to a recipe I found in the New York Times so this is my version of their recipe. This stuff is REALLY good so you might want to double the recipe and store some in freezer😋
Sofrito is a Puerto Rican sauce (similar to salsa) made mostly with bell peppers and LOTS of garlic, cilantro and culantro leaves. The latter are hard to find where I live so I used a bit more cilantro which apparently is a related herb with similar flavor. You can use both bell peppers and spicy peppers or just the bell peppers depending on how hot you want it to be. I also found some recipes calling for roasting the peppers first or sautéing them, but most just blended everything together raw. I tried both techniques and decided blending everything first then cooking it for a few minutes in a saucepan worked great and was fast and easy.
Muhammara Recipe (makes about 2 cups)
- 3 or 4 medium sweet red bell peppers
- 3 scallions
- 3/4 cup toasted walnuts
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp Pomegranate molasses
- 1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 1/2 – 1 tsp smoked paprika (optional but,oh, so good)
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- Roast the fresh bell peppers in oven at 400 degrees until skins start to blister or hold them with tongs over the flame of a gas stove just until skins begin to turn black. Let peppers cool for a few minutes. I then put them in a plastic bag for a few minutes which seems to make skin easier to remove. Peel skin off and remove core and seeds.
- Toast walnuts in a dry skillet, watching carefully to keep from burning. It only takes a few minutes at most.
- Put roasted peppers, lemon juice, toasted walnuts and oil and spices in a food processor or blender and pulse until it gets creamy.
- Add 1/3 cup of the bread crumbs & pulse a few more times to bind it all together. You can add the rest of the bread crumbs if it seems to need them.
- Taste & add more seasonings if you like.
- Scoop into a bowl and with a spoon make a little depression in the middle. Drizzle a bit of olive oil, a few drops of the Pomegranate molasses and a TBSP of toasted walnuts into the little “bowl”. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with crackers and/or fresh celery to scoop it up. It gets even better after a day in the fridge so make ahead of time if possible.
Sofrito is used in many Puerto Rican dishes to add a spicy flavor. It is similar to a Mexican salsa but with more peppers and less or no tomatoes. With 10 cloves of garlic it does have a kick but added to eggs, stews, soups, beans and/or rice it takes them to a new level of yumminess! It is also used as a marinade for meats in Puerto Rico. The traditional recipes call for culantro (yes, it looks like cilantro but is a bit different) and hard to find so I just used a bit more cilantro which has a similar flavor. I have experimented with different recipes; my first batch was overwhelmed by onions so this is my version with less onions and the addition of a fresh tomato. For authentic Puerto Rican Sofrito leave out the tomato if you prefer. You can use only sweet bell peppers or add a hot pepper if you want more heat but the garlic is a must!
Puerto Rican Style Sofrito Recipe (makes about 3 cups)
- 4 red and/ or green bell peppers
- 1 small hot pepper ( I used a padron pepper from the garden but any hot pepper is fine or leave it out)
- 1/2 sweet onion
- 10 -12 cloves garlic ( yes, you read it right!)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 6 Culantro leaves (if you can find it, otherwise omit)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 fresh tomato (optional)
- Chop onion into a few pieces & core & seed the peppers and cut into quarters. Put into bowl of food processor.
- Remove stems from washed bunch of cilantro and add that to vegetables.
- Peel all the garlic cloves and put in food processor.
- Quarter 1 tomato and add to other ingredients ( optional – no tomatoes in traditional Sofrito but I liked the addition).
- Pulse until well blended and relatively smooth.
- Pour it all into a saucepan, add salt and pepper and a dash of lime or lemon juice & simmer on low for about 5 – 8 minutes. Turn off heat, let cool and store in a glass jar in fridge or use immediately or freeze some of it. The favors really develop after a bit so make ahead, if possible.
It seems every cook has their own unique version so experiment and see what you like. Try adding a bit of vinegar or more tomatoes or some different spices like cumin. You can freeze it in ice cube trays & pop a cube into whatever dish you are wanting to spice up! Here’s to embracing diversity😀