A Nice Chianti and Fava Beans? No. Muhammara? Thumbs Off–er, Up
I’ll never forget the phrase that haunted me for months when I was about 16: delivered in a low, undulating murmur heard through the telephone receiver, a deep, throaty male voice posed a simple question: “Have you checked the children?”
Anyone who recognizes that line is familiar with the horror movie When a Stranger Calls. The premise is simple: a young woman is babysitting. Repeatedly, a strange man calls to ask if she’s checked the children. Eventually, she twigs in that this guy might just spell trouble, so she contacts the police to report the caller. “No problem, Miss,” the helpful lieutenant replies. “We’ll just trace the call and see where it’s coming from.” You can guess what’s next, right? When the subsequent call arrives, it’s the frantic police officer, warning the young woman to hightail it out of there: “It’s YOUR telephone number! The calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!!”
Egads. I still get chills when I think of that scene.
I know that horror movies are immensely popular, but I must admit that I don’t exactly, um, cleave to the genre very much (which, I suppose, would more appropriately be “cleaver,” in this case, anyway). I find nothing causes the blood to drain from my face and a gut-churning queasiness to overtake my innards quite so easily as the image of Jack Nicholson’s unctuous, demented grin poking through that ravaged pane in the door, drawling, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” . Or how about the eerie, portentous silence that precedes the faceoff between Ripley and the alien in the original Alien? (Let’s just say I’m hoping those nail marks I dug into the the HH’s forearm will fade eventually).
I must confess, after seeing that last film, I finally swore off this type of movie for good. As a consequence, I have yet to see the original Psycho. I’ve also forfeited a good excuse to sidle up to the HH on the couch as we watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and I will remain forever ignorant of other modern classics such as Hallowe’en, or Se7en, or Shaun of the Dead. I mean, seriously, are 90 minutes of spectacular, digitally-enhanced bloody geysers, headless torsos and disembodied entrails really worth 48 hours of elevated blood pressure?
Now, you may ask, just why am I rambling on about horror movies at this particular juncture? It’s not that I’m no longer traumatized by them, or that I’ve recently relented and watched one. No, nothing of the sort. The reason I’ve got horror movies on the brain is an innocuous Middle Eastern sweet pepper dip (if anything that’s brilliant red can be considered innocuous when discussed in the context of horror, that is).
You see, when the CFO visited a few weeks back, we had a lovely dinner with my friend The Eternal Optimist and her beau. The menu included all manner of delectable dishes as well as a fresh, crisp Sauvignon Blanc (oh, to sip on a little sauvignon blanc these days! Damn you, ACD!). As I mentioned in a previous post, we enjoyed quinoa and black bean bites, rice and almond balls from Laura Matthias’ ExtraVeganZa, the ubiquitous (in this house, anyway) Caesar salad from Veganomicon, Nutroast Extraordinaire, spiced sweet potato fries, and a gluten-free berries and cream tart for dessert. The third appetizer, at my sister’s suggestion, was muhammara.
While I’m a fan of many types of Middle Eastern dishes from baba ghanouj to hummus to halvah, I had never heard of muhammara (and yet, a Google search on the dip yields a multitude of entries–this stuff has been around for eons!). Every time my sis uttered the word, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Vincent Price’s classic, villainous laugh, Baby Jane’s self-satisfied cackle as she serves up that dinner surprise, or even Count Floyd’s satiric rendition in Monster Chiller Horror Theater.
Here, try it yourself: “Mmmmwoohhhaaaaahaaahaaa–marra!!” Heh heh.
So you can see why, from that moment onward, the eternal pairing of muhammara and horror movies was born.
Yesterday, as I was musing about what I can eat on this cleanse (actually, I muse about what I can eat most days, cleanse or no), I remembered the muhammara. Could it be that following the ACD is beginning to feel like a horror movie? Perhaps. In any case, the dip’s ingredients are all fairly antagonistic to candida: it’s really just a puréed veggie spread made primarily of roasted red pepper, walnuts, garlic and olive oil. The only questionable items were the pomegranate syrup and bread; and I figured that if I made my own sugar-free syrup (without added sugar) and omitted the bread, this would loosely qualify for my new, “more flexible” form of the ACD. The result, even without the bread, was still entirely appealing, and made a wonderful dinner with baby carrots and a rice casserole.
This recipe, which I adapted from here, is so simple it almost qualifies as a “Flash in the Pan.” However, since the peppers must first be roasted, peeled and seeded, and since it requires pomegranate syrup (essential, but not hard to make your own), I decided it was a bit too much work for that category. On the other hand, it’s definitely not too much work to whip up in the afternoon as a pre-prandial appetizer if you’ve been dreaming of smooth, creamy, slightly sweet and slightly tangy flavors during the day. It’s also perfect as a light meal before a night out (just be sure to choose your babysitter wisely).
And since the predominant ingredient in the muhammara is red peppers, I’m submitting this recipe to Sunshinemom at Tongue Ticklers, who’s hosting the “Food in Colors” event. This month’s theme is “red” (as in, “blood.” As in, “slasher movie.” As in, “Have you checked the children. . . ?”)
Muhammara (adapted from Cooking with Amy)
This was a lovely, satisfying precursor to our dinner last night (a simple steamed veggie affair), that allowed me to indulge the need for something tasty without completely abandoning my ACD resolve. And with the hefty portion of walnuts included, it provides both a source of protein and heart-healthy Omega 3 fats.
3 large red bell peppers
2 cups walnut halves
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 slice spelt or kamut sourdough bread (optional)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
pinch cayenne (optional)
2 Tbsp. pomegranate syrup*
Preheat oven to 400F ( C) and place peppers on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Roast for about 45 minutes, until very soft and skins begin to blacken. (If you have a gas stove, you can roast the pepper directly over the flame of an element–it will be much faster). Remove from oven, place in a paper bag, and allow to cool. Once cool, peel away the skins, cut open and remove seeds.
While the pepper is roasting, toast the walnuts on another rack of the oven for about 7 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
In a food processor, process the garlic and bread until crumbly. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasonings and process again to mix. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This is even better the next day.
* To make your own pomegranate syrup, take 2 cups of unsweetened pomegranate juice and simmer down to about 1/4 cup, until the syrup is thick and easily coats a spoon.