Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Persian New Year 2: Muhammara and a light-as-air white loaf

When I have a party, I usually try to make something from the culinary repertoire of the homelands of all my guests. This time we were having a celebration for No Ruz, the Persian New Year, which is also celebrated to some extent in other countries that were once under the Persian empire, and among the Kurdish people living in Iraq (as we know from my friend Zanmei's blog) and way over in the east of Turkey. In the rest of Turkey, from where my guests hail, the day is apparently known as the Spring Festival.

Anyway, having yet to suss out any special foods eaten in Turkey during this festival, I went ahead with a lovely Turkish red pepper and pomegranate (again!) dip, known as muhammara, that is totally to die for. I have two recipes for this, one in Alyar Esen Algar's Classical Turkish Cooking: Traditional Turkish Food for the American Kitchen (mentioned earlier), and the other in Australian food legend Stephanie Alexander's opus magna, The Cook's Companion. (This is the point where I get to say what a joy it was to dine in Stephanie's eponymous Melbourne restaurant with the YM (then 18 months) in tow. The food was, of course, to die for, but the fact that boisterous young folk were welcomed so warmly only sealed the restaurant's place in my affections. Regrettably the restaurant is no more, but the memories remain.)

Anyway, I made Stephanie's version again, as it always gets such rave reviews whenever I serve it.

I made it this time with breadcrumbs from the Argentine chimichurri bread I made the other day because Japanese commercial bread contains ingredients that are no-nos for Muslims, and anyway, who is going to complain about more flavour, right? I served it with my dear friend H's bread, which the YM is forever asking me to make (being perhaps the only person in the world doesn't like more flavour in his bread (g)). I was out of wholemeal flour, so used all white flour, substituting 10 g of oatmeal for 10 g of the total weight of flour. It turned out a treat.

Being a starter, I only cut half the loaf, but it quickly became obvious that the Young People around the table wouldn't be satisfied with that. They managed to demolish the whole thing in about 2 minutes, and could easily have polished off another loaf if I'd had it!

Turkish pomegranate and red pepper spread

Makes 1 1/2 cups [S: Note that the measures in this recipe are Australian. Use the measures in brackets if you do not have a set of Aussie measuring cups]

1/4 cup (62 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh mixed-grain or sourdough breadcrumbs [S: I used some of the Argentine Chimchurri bread from earlier: yum]
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 large red pepper, roasted and peeled
60 g walnuts
1 tsp freshly chopped garlic
1/2 tsp hot chili past or to taste
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp (40 ml) lemon juice

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small frying pan and saute breadcrumbs and cumin, turning frequently, until lightly golden and smelling wonderful. Remove from heat and tip onto a plate lined with kitchen paper. Roughly puree red pepper, walnuts and chili paste in a food processor, then add crumbs, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and remaining oil. Taste and adjust balance with salt and, if necessary, more pomegranate molasses and lemon juice [S: I've mistakenly added 2 tbsp of pom molasses before and thought it tasted great!]. Scrape into a container and cover. The spread will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Auntie H's light-as-air bread maker white loaf

15 g honey
210 ml water
180 g white bread flour
100 g wholemeal bread flour [S: also works if the wholemeal flour is not of the bread making variety]
17 g butter, diced
5 g salt
10 g powdered milk
10 g dry yeast

Place ingredients in the pan of the bread maker in the order recommended by the manufacturer and bake using the white bread function.


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