*(totally non-traditional but definitely delicious)
Levantine /lɪˈvantɪn//ˈlɛv(ə)ntɪn//lɪˈvantʌɪn/: Anything pertaining to the Levant, the region centred around modern Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Levantine cuisine is found in the modern states of Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria. Even Cyprus, in the eastern Mediterranean, has strong Levantine influences.
One of my favourite ingredients is pomegranate paste (also known as pomegranate molasses), a rich, dark syrup that adds tang, sweetness and astringency to just about any dish. Understandably, this can be a tricky ingredient to track down (particularly if you live somewhere where… er… say, Syrian or Iranian visitors aren’t currently welcome…), but no worries- it’s also an easy one to buy online!
(I don’t think buying it will put you on a no-fly list, but no promises) (sorry, I don’t mean to make jokes of a truly terrible situation, I’m just trying to add a little levity to these troubling days)
Pomegranate molasses is a key ingredient in Muhammara, a beautiful spread common in Levantine cuisine. Smoky, tangy, sweet… I could (and do) eat this with just about everything. Traditionally served (at room temperature, so the flavours can sing) simply with pita, I took this whole thing one step further and used it as a base for a flatbread, finishing it all off with a basic, deconstructed tabouleh-type salad.
Non-traditional? Yes. Absolutely mouthwatering? Yes.
The muhammara recipe below is straight-up Yotam Ottolenghi’s because you can’t beat Ottolenghi- you just can’t. I could try, but the effort would be futile. I have been cooking my way through Plenty More since January and it does not disappoint. Ever.
The only amendment I made was that, contrary to his instructions, I did use a food processor in lieu of a mortar and pestle. This is partly because my mortar and pestle just isn’t big enough to make a full batch of muhammara and also because- used judiciously- I really do love the chunky texture of a few pulses in the processor.
Either way, this muhammara recipe will give you enough for two large pizzas or one large pizza and one bowl to eat straight, with a spoon (… not that I did that) (I totally did that). Enjoy!
|Levantine Flatbread*|| |
- 3-4 Tbsp muhammara
- 1 Tbsp parsley, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup tomato, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- ⅓ cup goat cheese
- ½ lemon, cut into wedges
- 3 large red bell peppers
- 50g breadcrumbs
- ½ Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp dried Aleppo chilli flakes
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 50g walnuts
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pizza Dough:*
- 1⅓ cups warm water
- 2¼ tsp instant yeast
- 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet on to the bottom rack of a cold oven. Set the oven to a 500 degree broil. Halve the bell peppers and brush both sides with olive oil. Place bell peppers on a baking sheet, skin side up and roast on the top rack of the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the skins are charred and black. (confused? The pizza stone is heating on a rack below the peppers- we're hitting two birds with one stone here)
- Once the peppers are roasted, remove them from the oven and let cool then peel and discard the skin (this doesn't have to be perfect, some lovely charred pepper skin bits won't hurt the dish any).
- Move the pizza stone to the middle rack of the oven and continue to heat it, turning the oven from a 500 degree broil to just a 500 degree bake (moving the heat source from exclusively the top of the oven to the top and bottom elements).
- Place all muhammara ingredients in a food processor and pulse a couple times to create a coarse paste, scraping down the sides as needed- we want to keep quite a bit of texture so it's better to under-blend this than over-blend.
- Dust a flat surface with some coarse semolina and stretch out the portion of pizza dough you will be using. Take the heated pizza stone/tray out of the oven and transfer the dough directly on to it. This will cause the dough to start cooking right away, ensuring a nice and crispy crust (if you're using a pre-baked crust, skip this step).
- Spread a couple tablespoons of the muhammara on to the pizza dough. Top with goat cheese and sesame seeds. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges of the pizza dough are golden. Remove from oven and top with tomatoes, parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
- To make dough: Preheat oven to 200°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine water and yeast and let sit for 5 minutes until yeast has dissolved and mixture is frothy. Add in flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil; knead on a low speed for 5-10 minutes until dough has formed. It should be elastic and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl; cover with aluminum foil, and place bowl in the oven. TURN OVEN OFF. Let the dough rise in the warm oven for about 2 hours until it has doubled in size. Divide into two balls of dough, then use one for the remainder of this recipe. (Prepare another pizza with the second ball of dough, or store in the fridge for another night.)