The Travelling Trencherman and meeting with Chef Ahmed Saber
Last Tuesday night Luxor, Egypt. Mother’s visa run and the Prophet’s birthday meant that some travel was both in order and necessary. It was, in truth a great success on many levels. It was the first time for my wife (Egyptian) to visit Upper Egypt as well as the family, so Luxor it was and a very happy choice. Steigenberger Nile Palace Hotel, Luxor is seriously professional and the city is very well organised with an airport rather better than Alexandria. A sad comment on Alex and one can only hope that situation will improve. Karnak, the Valley of the Kings are benchmarks in exciting destinations and not only Luxor did not disappoint, it is a very clean and despite being a tourist cliché, avoided the worst effects of being a tourist trap. Whilst I write about cooking and food rather than restaurant reviews, Steigenberger’s El Tarboush Lebanese restaurant has a resident genius, Chef Ahmed Saber from Aswan. He has worked abroad in Saudi Arabia, but these days works closer to home. The important point about both him and the whole brigade is that clearly they love their work and give with pleasure. I adore walnuts and so naturally fancied Muhammara. Not only was I happy, I have to say it was the best I have eaten anywhere. The other plus, was that he was happy to teach me his recipe and I respect both his generosity in that, also all the other food was very succulent. The Syrian Chicken Shawarma was also outstanding. It is almost a cliché, but has truth, that if a kitchen gets the basics not only right, but outstandingly good, one can be pretty sure of the rest of the menu. Walnuts feature in my adventures in Caucasian cooking and considering we are blessed in Kuwait with Iranian walnuts (and other goodies) from Souk Mubarakiyah, we should take advantage of very healthy food of great quality on our doorstep.
Muhammara, is a hot pepper dip, most usually eaten with quarters of pitta bread that originates from Aleppo, Syria, though popular throughout the Levant and Turkey where it is known as acuka. There is also a Georgian/Abkhaz version known as ajika or adjika, though the Caucasian versions differ in that coriander, dill and blue fenugreek are used, the blue fenugreek being very specific to the region.
There are some key elements in making Muhammara; 1) Roasting sweet peppers; 2) Roasting fruity chilli for the same time (Serrano are good as there is fruit flavour and not just heat); 3) Good quality walnuts and 4) Dibs al-Roman; Pomegranate molasses.
Voila! I created it, though reversing the walnut and breadcrumb ratio. I am creating for home, but do pay homage to my new Chef friend Ahmed Saber. To be fair to the hotel, the other restaurants were also great and my veal fillets with mushroom sauce was also inspiring. Too many recipes; too little time…
Food for thought!
Tomato paste 170g
Olive oil 150ml
3 large sweet peppers
3 cloves of garlic
Pomegranate molasses 50ml
Black pepper 50g
Pinch of cumin
Roast the sweet peppers and chilli in the oven for about 35 – 45 minutes, until the skins blacken, set aside to cool and remove the skins, seeds and stalks, then grind to a paste.
Grind the walnuts together with the other ingredients and combine with the pepper/chilli paste, adding the pomegranate molasses, taste to see the balance of the seasoning and make any adjustments as necessary.
Serve at room temperature with a garnish of molasses and whole walnuts.
Quantities can of course, be adjusted, but the quantity above can be portioned out and frozen for a good supply and/or made in advance for a party.