Muhammara is reputedly a speciality of Aleppo in Syria, a dip rather than a salad, rich with walnuts, fragrant with mint, spiked with cumin and, when I make it, the smoky, aromatic heat of pimentón, the smoked paprika so popular in Spanish cooking - so this is obviously not an authentic muhammara but, as you will see, the pimentón adds very considerably to the flavour and appeal.
Smoked paprika is available in the spice section of most supermarkets or health shops. I love the organic one from Steenbergs of Yorkshire which is punchy and bold, with a satisfying heat.
Serves 2/4 as a light lunch, 4/6 as part of a mezze spread
4 large red peppers, about 250 g each
2 garlic cloves, peeled
80 g wholemeal bread
125 ml + 2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika, or to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
100 g walnuts, toasted
Fresh lemon juice
20 pitted black olives, halved
15 g mint, coarsely chopped
Bread, to serve (optional) – any robust loaf, sourdough, pita, breadsticks and in fact crudités all work well
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the grill. Line a baking tray with foil, place the peppers on it and grill them, turning every so often, until they are soft and the skin is blistered and black. Set them aside until cook enough to handle, then skin them, discarding the seeds and stalks. Place in a food processor with the garlic, bread, 125 ml of olive oil, pimentón, cumin, walnuts and about 1 tbsp of lemon juice, and process to a smooth purée.
Check the seasoning and acidity, adding a bit more lemon juice if the flavour is at all flat.
Spread the muhammara out on a large, flat serving dish. Garnish with olives and mint, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
The muhammara can be prepared in advance and refrigerated but make sure you bring it back to room temperature before you serve it.
And what about its nutritional talents? Peppers are not only Vitamin C powerhouses but are also rich in Vitamins A and B6, potassium, iron and magnesium as well as antioxidants like carotenoids, including lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Olive oil is impressively anti-inflammatory, contains Vitamins A and K, lowers blood pressure and enhances blood vessel health. Garlic? Powerfully antibacterial, protective of cardiovascular health and high blood pressure as well as the common cold, provides cancer support, regulates blood sugar levels, and its antioxidant properties may help combat dementia. And finally walnuts: an excellent source of Omega3 fatty acids, they help to strengthen the skin and make it more flexible, an absolute must for Dynamic Ageing; they also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help to lower cholesterol. So, enjoy!