Muhammara, Za’atar, and Grilled Cheese
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.
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.
Grilled Mozzarella with Muhammara
Makes 1 sandwich, easily doubled
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.
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.
1 small clove garlic
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.
Makes 2 tablespoons
Sumac is available at Middle Eastern stores and online.
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