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Zip in a jar

Liven up your dinner routine with easy roasted red pepper dips and sauces.

By Adam Ried
January 24, 2010

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A well-stocked pantry is among a cook’s best allies, and mine always contains a jar or two of roasted red peppers. With the peppers and a few staples and seasonings, I can quickly whip up a dip or sauce to shine a little light on almost any winter meal. Muhammara is a tart-sweet-spicy-earthy dip from the eastern Mediterranean. Feta and red pepper dip, something I make almost reflexively when guests are coming, takes just five minutes to whip up, and Salsa Romesco, originally from the Catalan region of Spain, is an enticing all-purpose sauce I use to dress up a variety of simply prepared meats, fish, and vegetables -- even scrambled or fried eggs.

Muhammara (Red Pepper, Walnut, and Pomegranate Dip)

Makes about 2 cups

It is worth seeking out pomegranate molasses for the Muhammara (see Kitchen Aide), but you can substitute a mixture of 1½ tablespoons regular molasses and 1½ teaspoons fresh lime juice. Scoop up the dip with toasted pita, bagel chips, or slices of fresh fennel.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed

2/3 cup walnuts (3 ounces), lightly toasted and cooled

¼ cup bread crumbs, lightly toasted and cooled

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more

Salt

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1½ tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor.

To the food processor add the roasted red peppers, walnuts, bread crumbs, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt, and process to a coarse puree. Scrape down the sides of the food processor and then, with the motor running, slowly drizzle the remaining oil through the feed tube until it is incorporated. Scrape the Muhammara into a bowl, taste, and adjust the seasoning with lemon juice and salt, if necessary. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve. (Muhammara will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for about a week. Return to room temperature to serve.)

Whipped Feta and Red Pepper Dip with Lemon

Makes about 3 cups

12 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed

1½ teaspoons finely grated zest and 1½ tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Pinch cayenne pepper

Salt and black pepper

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

Combine the feta, roasted red peppers, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, shallot, thyme, cayenne, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper in a food processor, and process to a smooth puree, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate to meld the flavors and allow the consistency to firm up slightly, about 1½ hours. Allow to stand at room temperature for a few minutes to lose its chill; taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper, if necessary. Sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve.

Salsa Romesco (Red Pepper, Garlic, and Nut Sauce)

Makes about 2½ cups

Try the sauce on sauteed, broiled, or grilled fish, shrimp, chicken, pork, or beef; roasted or grilled eggplant or zucchini; or roasted or baked potatoes. During tomato season, I replace the canned tomatoes with 1 medium-large tomato, cored, seeded, and grated on a box grater to make about 1 cup of pulp.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 slice of baguette (about 1½ inches thick), cut into chunks, or ¼ cup fresh or dried bread crumbs

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed

1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

¼ cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted

¼ cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skinned (rub them in a kitchen towel after toasting)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1½ tablespoons paprika

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, or more

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1½ tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add the bread chunks or crumbs, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes (turn the bread chunks over halfway through cooking). Use a spatula to scrape the bread chunks or crumbs and oil into the bowl of a food processor.

To the food processor add the roasted red peppers, tomatoes, almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, parsley, and ½ teaspoon salt, and puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor. With the motor running, slowly drizzle the remaining oil through the feed tube until it is all incorporated (the consistency should be like that of jarred applesauce; if it is too thick, add up to 2 tablespoons of hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process). Scrape the salsa into a bowl and allow it to rest at room temperature to meld the flavors, at least 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with vinegar and salt, if necessary, and serve. (The salsa will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for about a week.)

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.