Muhammara, Za’atar, and Grilled Cheese

Posted by on Wednesday Mar 6th, 2013 | Print

This post begins and ends with muhammara. Muhammara is a Middle Eastern dip that’s rich, sweet, spicy, and tangy. I’m always looking for unusual dips, preferably one whose ingredients come from the pantry, and muhammara fits the bill.

Looking to other cultures is one of my tried-and-true ways of branching out in the kitchen. For dips, one of the most fertile culinary traditions has got to come from the Middle East.

Like: picture a mezze table, loaded with hummus, baba ganoush, oils, cheeses, herbs and try not to salivate.

Most of the ingredients in muhammara are everyday items: nuts, chile flakes, tomato paste, olive oil. But one – pomegranate molasses – is a little harder to find. I’ve seen it at some Whole Foods, but I traversed Atlantic Avenue and made a stop at Sahadi’s, a quintessential Brooklyn shopping experience. The pomegranate molasses lends the dip its signature sweetness as well as its tang. I can imagine using the rest of my bottle of pomegranate molasses in dressings and marinades.

And that’s good, because I’m going to be coming back to this bottle. For the next few months, I’m going to be writing a series about Middle Eastern food – buying it, making it, eating it, and understanding it – as part of a journey sponsored by Sargento.

Though I’ve traveled to Turkey and Morocco, and Alex has been to Egypt, I have a lot of tradition to absorb and a lot of ingredients to play around with in my kitchen in the months ahead.

But you gotta start somewhere. Grilled cheese sandwiches provide a springboard for me to incorporate flavor explorations into my go-to meal. If you’ve been reading, you already know that.

So for this introductory post, I decided I’d take my fun new Middle Eastern ingredients and slip them into my perennial favorite. In addition to pomegranate molasses, that also meant za’atar, a combination of thyme leaves, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac, which adds tartness.

You, on the other hand, don’t have to put your muhammara into a grilled cheese. I highly recommend you make a batch to serve at your next picnic or as an hors d’oeuvre at a dinner party though. That bottle of pomegranate and container of sumac will surely come in handy again, in one of my future Middle Eastern posts, which are sure to be delicious.

This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout the year, with the support of Sargento, I’ll be exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, and wherever the flavors may take me. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. You can read my affiliate disclosure here if you’re interested.

**Recipe**

Grilled Mozzarella with Muhammara
Makes 1 sandwich, easily doubled

Ingredients
2 slices good sourdough bread
2 slices (1.5 ounces) low-moisture mozzarella cheese (I used Sargento® Deli Style Sliced Mozzarella Cheese)
2 tablespoons muhammara (recipe follows)
4 teaspoons butter
Za’atar (recipe follows, also available at Middle Eastern stores)

On one side of the bread, place the mozzarella. On the other, thickly spread the muhammara. Melt half the butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Place the sandwich in the pan with a weight on top for best results. I use this Lodge weight, but you could try a second frying pan, or just press down occasionally with your spatula.

Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the bread is golden and the cheese starts to melt. Lift the sandwich up, add the rest of the butter, flip the sandwich, and cook about 5 minutes on the second side. Sprinkle with za’atar, cut in half, and serve.

Muhammara
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

Most of the recipes I’ve seen call for roasted red peppers or spicy red pepper paste–harissa. I like this Claudia Roden version because it uses tomato paste, which I almost always have on hand.

Ingredients
1 small clove garlic
Salt
1 6-inch pita, lightly toasted and cooled
1 1/4 cups walnut halves
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on your affinity toward spice)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Combine the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor and pulse until the garlic forms a paste. Tear up the toasted pita and add it to the food processor, then process til it becomes crumbs. Add all the remaining ingredients, starting with 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Blend until the miture forms a rough paste–don’t completely puree. Taste for salt and spiciness, adding more red pepper flakes and another pinch of salt if you like.

Za’atar
Makes 2 tablespoons

Sumac is available at Middle Eastern stores and online.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
3/4 teaspoon sumac

Combine all the ingredients. You can make as much as you want to have on hand if you wind up getting addicted like me! Store in a jar.

As if there weren’t enough goodness, here are the other awesome sandwiches other bloggers have made for Food Network’s Comfort Food Feast. Yum!

What’s Gaby Cooking: Brie, Fig and Asian Pear Panini
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Grilled Cheese With Kale Artichoke Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Cooking With Elise: Inside-Out Grilled Cheese With Bacon
Red or Green?: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Red or Green-Style
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
Weelicious: Kentucky Hot Brown Panini
Virtually Homemade: Grilled Cheddar, Apple and Arugula Sandwich
The Sensitive Epicure: Individual Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese (Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free)
Devour: Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese
Thursday Night Dinner: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
The Heritage Cook: Open Faced Grilled Halloumi Sandwiches
Daily*Dishin: Grilled Jarlsberg and Black Forest Ham With a Surprise
FN Dish: Grilled Cheese Goes Beyond Cheese

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  • Elisa

    Wow! These ingredients are totally new to me but I liked your idea to mix these new, particular flavors into a classic grilled cheese sandwich! I’ll be trying this for sure!

    Thanks for this unusual recipe!
    http://www.insalatadisillabe.blogspot.com
    xo, Elisa

  • marie @ little kitchie

    I am definitely going to try this! Love branching out like this, and the only thing I need to pick up is that pomegranate molasses! I’ve seen it before at my Whole Foods but really had no idea what to use it for. Great post!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Thanks, Marie!

  • Bev @ Bev Cooks

    I’ve never heard of this but now I haaaaaave to have it.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I promise, you do.

  • lovefoodies

    This looks like an interesting recipe. can’t say I’ve ever come across some of the ingredients you’ve mentioned so will look forward to trying to hunt them down and making the recipe :) Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Lacy

    I once talked to a Middle Eastern man at a dinner party for 15 minutes about Za’atar. Anyway, this sounds like a great way to spice-up a BGSK standard.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Ha! I can totally see how someone would be that impassioned about za’atar!

  • Sarah

    I love za’atar! I have a huge bag at home–I hadn’t thought to put it on sandwiches. Brilliant! :)

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      What do you usually put it on? Since making it, I’ve been sprinkling some on everything.

  • jln156

    How long will the muhamarra last in the fridge?

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      At least a week for sure, probably 2 weeks.

      • jln156

        Thanks!

  • Amira

    Pretty sure I’m gonna enjoy this series! I’ve got a Middle Eastern background and love your accurate description of zaatar here – there are lots of people who aren’t actually sure what it is but are willing to rave about it, haha. So thanks for being true to the originals, also with the pomagranate molasses etc. The muhammara in grilled cheese sounds like a great idea!
    If you’re looking for more zaatar uses, a traditional thing to make is fiteerit zaatar (=zaatar pastry, plural fatayer), which is essentially a dough base (you can make a simple Italian style pizza dough and roll out fairly thinly) topped with a zaatar and olive oil paste and baked. Make the paste in a bowl, then spread it on the dough and bake til the dough’s cooked.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I’m so glad you’re excited, Amira! I’ve heard about fatayer za’atar – and I actually think I’ve seen it at Sahadi’s, as well. Definitely going on my list to try. Thanks fo r the rec!

      • Amira

        You’re welcome Cara, hope you enjoy it! Lindsay, I know what you mean!

    • Lindsay

      ugh, I need me some zaatar fatayer right now!

  • Lindsay

    Oh man, so excited for this! As someone of Lebanese descent, I never even thought of putting zaatar on sandwiches either, but man, am I hungry now. You’ve pretty much combined two of my favourite things- grilled cheese and middle eastern flavours. Can’t wait to try these!!

  • Jill Nammar

    What a great idea! I’m a food blogger and half Lebanese….always looking for new ways to use these ingredients. I love it! Thanks! Jilly Inspired http://jillyinspired.blogspot.com/

  • RepairMyRecipe

    What an Amazing recipe and blog. Nothing beats a beautiful golden brown grilled cheese and this middle eastern version puts a great spin on it. Check out our grilled cheese recipe at: http://repairmyrecipe.blogspot.com/2013/04/tomato-soup-and-grilled-cheese.html

    Happy Cooking
    http://www.repairmyrecipe.com , http://www.repairmyrecipe.blogspot.com

  • Laura Campbell

    I LOVE Middle Eastern food. I’ve never heard of that dip though… muhammara sounds delicious (and definitely easy, as I have all of those ingredients in my pantry already!). I also have za’atar, coincidentally. I’ll definitely try this unusual but surely delicious sandwich soon!