lebanese salsa | banadurah harrah

banadurah harrah

I've lived in four different states throughout the midwestern US and east coast, and everywhere I've gone, people have proudly shared a tremendous pride in their state's tomatoes. But if you ask me, there's very little difference between those grown in New Jersey and Illinois; that is, as long as you're not eating an Illinois tomato in Jersey, or vice versa, because with something this fragile and ephemeral, local is the way to go.

I try to eat relatively seasonally and locally, but I'm not such a stickler, and so I eat tomatoes pretty much year-round (sometimes from the farmers' market, sometimes from the supermarket). But I do enjoy a lot more of them in late July and August. And banadurah harrah is one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes to eat this time of year because it really puts tomatoes front and center.

tomatoes
diced tomatoes
mint

Banadurah harrah means "spicy tomatoes" in Lebanese Arabic, and it's usually described as "Lebanese salsa." And this totally makes sense because a lot of its ingredients overlap with Mexican salsas. You've got tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, spicy peppers, and citrus. As Maureen Abood says in her banadurah harrah post, what makes this taste a little more Lebanese is the particular choice of herbs—in this case, mint. Banadurah harrah goes great with tortilla chips, but it's more traditionally eaten as a condiment or with bread, and it makes a wonderful addition to a meze tray. Most bannadurah harrah recipes (and indeed, one of the recipes in this post) have you simmer the tomatoes with lots of deliciously subtle dried mint. The cooked version is the one I'm most used to, and it's particularly perfect if you've stumbled upon this sunny post in the middle of winter, because it works great with canned tomatoes and dried herbs. I've got a quick recipe for making dried mint at home if you can't find it in the supermarket. And in the middle of January, canned tomatoes are so much better than those pale, gritty ones you find in the produce section.

But, since we're smack dab in the middle of July and August, my current favorite way to enjoy banadurah harrah is fresh. My recipe for fresh banadurah harrah uses all the same ingredients as my recipe for the simmered version, but it just prepares them a little differently. Instead of stewing everything together with dried herbs (because "stewing" is a verb you might not want to hear in July), you simply finely dice and mince everything together with fresh herbs.

banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah

simmered banadurah harrah

yield: about 3 cups
total time: 17 minutes
active time: 7 minutes
download a
PDF to print

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons small-diced onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced

  • 2 13.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes

  • 2 teaspoons finely crumbled dried mint

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan for 1 minute. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the diced tomatoes with their juices. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every minute or so, until the tomatoes dissolve into a thick sauce and the juices evaporate. If you're not using a wide frying pan (e.g., if you're using a tall saucepan), this may take longer.

  3. Reduce heat to medium, add the dried mint, cayenne pepper, oregano, and salt, and cook for another 2 minutes to infuse everything with flavor.

  4. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, refrigerate, and serve either cold or at room temperature.

Notes: The simmered version freezes wonderfully. You can store it all together in freezer-proof container, or freeze little portions in an ice cube tray, and then store the cubes in a plastic bag. If you're looking for ways to serve simmered banadurah harrah, try it on toast with labneh, or coat some winter squash and roast it. Also check out my recipe for slow roast banadurah harrah.

banadurah harrah
banadurah harrah

fresh banadurah harrah

yield: about 2 1/2 cups
total time: 25 minutes
active time: 15 minutes
download a
PDF to print

  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup small-diced red onion

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  1. Strain the diced tomatoes for about 10 minutes to let the juices run into the sink (don't worry, there will be enough tomato juice once you add the salt).

  2. Combine the strained tomatoes, red onion, garlic, olive oil, mint, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and serve cold or at room temperature.

banadurah harrah

muhammara

Muhammara

Last week, I posted my recipe for "tabbouleh verde," which is the greenest salad you'll ever eat, since it calls for tomatillos instead of red tomatoes. So today I thought it would be fun to continue to celebrate monochromatic foods, this time taking a look at green's complementary color, red.

Muhammara is a Syrian spread, which literally means "reddened" in Arabic, and it's not hard to see how it got its name. In a little while, bell peppers will be in season in temperate climates, and using high quality peppers makes muhammara turn a deep, dark shade of red. While it looks nice and shiny with a drizzle of olive oil (pictured right), it looks even more dramatic with little puddles of maroon pomegranate molasses (pictured left).

red peppers
roasting red peppers
roasting red peppers

Muhammara's striking look is certainly the first thing worth noting, but flavor development was the most important part of writing this recipe. When I go to a restaurant and really enjoy the food, it's usually because there was a really subtle and understated flavor that got under my skin. But vivid flavors, when used carefully, are just as crucial to good food as subtle flavors are. I think this is especially relevant when it comes to dips and spreads. A dip or spread that isn't flavored boldly can be such a let down, and muhammara is no exception.

Muhammara

The key to my muhammara recipe is an intensely roasted flavor. You begin most muhammara recipes (including this one) by roasting red peppers over a flame, which chars the skins and softens the interiors. Once the skins have sufficiently charred, and the peppers have spent some time steaming, the burnt skins will easily slough off, and the pepper flesh will maintain the roasted flavor with just the tiniest bit of char clinging to it. To add even more toasty flavor, my own personal technique is to pan-roast the walnuts and breadcrumbs before adding them to the dip. The cumin, likewise, gets toasted for just a few seconds to tone down its raw flavor and highlight its nuttiness. If you think you don't like cumin, I encourage you to try toasting it this way before cooking with it. It really makes a difference.

Muhammara
Muhammara

Pomegranate molasses is usually added to muhammara, because it's the perfect counterpoint to all that roasted flavor, and it's especially important in this one, since there's more roasted flavor than usual. It brings a lot of acidity and brightness, which also highlights the flavor of the peppers. And the crushed red pepper is just the thing that always sends muhammara over the top. There's so much going on with this dip: acid, heat, char, and toast. It's just right for spreading on pita bread, or serving with a dish that needs an extra something. Try it on some vegan pizza (manakish muhammara) or serve it with flatbread.

Muhammara
Muhammara

Muhammara

yield: about 2 cups
active time: 30 minutes
total time: 1 hour
download a
PDF to print
for more muhammara-inspired recipes, try
this flatbread and these lamb shanks

  • 2 large or 3 small red bell peppers

  • 1/2 cup whole walnuts

  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs (either homemade or store-bought)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or substitute 1 small clove crushed garlic)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • For garnish: extra virgin olive oil, pomegranate molasses, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • For serving: pita bread (either homemade or store-bought) or anything savory that needs more flavor

  1. Turn one or two gas stove burners to medium heat and place the red peppers directly over the grates. *

  2. Cook the peppers, frequently rotating each as soon as one side becomes very charred. Cook until the peppers are somewhat soft and very charred (about 5 to 10 minutes total).

  3. Immediately place the peppers in a glass container or bowl. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and microwave for 30 seconds on high heat. Then use the residual heat to let the peppers slowly steam for 30 minutes to an hour.

  4. While the peppers are steaming, pulse the walnuts in a food processor, until they're very finely chopped (be careful not to over-process).

  5. Toast the walnuts and breadcrumbs together in a skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn golden-brown, about 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in the cumin during the last 30 - 60 seconds of cooking. Remove from heat and set aside.

  6. Once the peppers have steamed long enough (they should be soft and cool enough to handle), use a paper towel to rub away most of the charred skins. Tear the peppers open and discard the seeds, pith, stems, and any excess liquid that has collected.

  7. Place the skinless, seeded red peppers in a food processor and only pulse 1 or 2 times to very coarsely chop the peppers. **

  8. Add the walnut-breadcrumb mixture, pomegranate molasses, 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, lemon juice, garlic powder, oregano, and salt, and pulse 2 to 3 more times just until everything forms a chunky paste. Do not purée.

  9. Place the muhammara in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil or pomegranate molasses and sprinkle with more crushed red pepper.

* If you don't have a gas stove, you can use your oven's broiler or a grill, using the same method and checking frequently.
** If you don't have a food processor, you can easily do this by hand. Very coarsely chop the red peppers on a cutting board, add them to a bowl, and use a potato masher to combine the peppers with the rest of the ingredients. You could also use a mortar and pestle, as Yotam Ottolenghi suggests. It's harder to over-process by hand, but be careful to stop as soon as it turns into a chunky paste.

Muhammara