Everything — I mean, absolutely everything — has gone to hell now that I’m in full-blown dissertation mode. Exercise? Bah! No time! Personal hygiene? It’s all come down to my good friend, Toothbrush. My eyes are permanently bloodshot, my hair is a rat’s nest, and my legs haven’t seen a razor since May. Fashion? These pajama pants will have to do. Romance? The cuddle quotient at Chez Secret Menu has withered to a sleepy “good night” muffled by blankets, and corpse-like limbs occasionally entwining in the unconscious tango of nighttime cold medicine.
In general, I’m late for everything, unreliable, disorganized, and nonfunctional in all realms except the written word. (Now I’m going to go back and spell-check the preceding paragraph. One sec.) And it might seem that under such duress I would just kick cooking to the curb and live out of a packet of ramen. But, as they say, something’s gotta give. Take away my lunchtime mixed level class and my once-slammin’ abs and replace them with a pot belly. Take away my smooth complexion and auburn ringlets and replace them with sandpaper and dust bunnies. Take away my make-out-in-front-of-the-record-player time and my attention to date night accessorizing. But do not, DO NOT take away my beloved kitchen mojo.
Sunday I spent, like, three hours making this dish. I don’t think it really needs to take that long, but I went all out. I was going to make a straight up muhammara-based sauce for my pasta, but decided pretty early in the game that it would be a shame to puree away the creamy crunch of walnut pieces. So there you have it: deconstructed muhammara, to go with my deconstructed life.
Uncle Derrida’s Muhammara Pasta
-2 roasted red bell peppers
-2/3 cup toasted walnut halves
-1 tsp cumin powder
-1/2 tsp cayenne powder
-1/2 tsp smoked salt
-1-2 tsp diced preserved lemon (or zest of 1/2 lemon + 1/2 tsp salt)
-1 clove garlic
-1 tbs lemon juice
-1 tbs pomegranate molasses
-1 tbs olive oil
You can use canned roasted red peppers for this, or do it yourself. I chose the latter, because it’s easy and tastes amazing. Switch the oven on to 400°F, wash and peel the stickers off the peppers, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; put the whole peppers on the sheet and in the oven, turning them every 10 minutes or so with tongs until they’re charred on all sides (about 30 minutes); and, finally, pull ’em out of the oven and form a little packet around the peppers with the foil, letting them sit for about 15 minutes. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the skin off of them (it should slip off easily), and slice them up, being sure to remove all the seeds. Whoop, there it is!
Meanwhile, you can be attending to all this other stuff that the recipe requires. Don’t be me — don’t drag it all out by doing it all sequentially. You can totally handle the multitasking, I promise. And toasting walnuts is even easier than roasting peppers: just throw them in a nonstick pan over medium heat and stir them around gently for about ten minutes or so, when they start turning a deeper brown and smelling amazing. When the walnuts are cool, chop them into crumbly little pieces (just not so small that you pulverize them) and toss them in a mixing bowl. Now add your cumin, cayenne, and smoked salt. If you don’t have smoked salt, go out and get some. It’s a genius food item. But, seriously, if you just don’t have it then don’t worry about it. Use regular salt. Your sauce will still taste great.
By this point you should have put some pasta water on to boil, and selected a pasta (I chose brown rice penne). Now chop up your garlic clove and your preserved lemon rind. What? You don’t have preserved lemon? Okay, okay, let’s jiggle the handle here: zest a lemon into the mixing bowl and then chop it in half. Add another half teaspoon of salt. Squeeze one of the lemon halves over the walnuts, too (you should do this even if you do have preserved lemon on hand). Finally, add your pomegranate molasses and your olive oil. (No, you cannot substitute regular molasses, you just need pomegranate molasses. Really, you need it. It’s a-maz-ing. You can put it on salads and pancakes. You can wear it as lipstick. It will even take your kids to school when you’re hungover. Get it!)
All right, where were we? Oh, right. We were at the part where your peppers are done and you’ve diced them up into little half-inch pieces. Now add them to the mixing bowl and stir, stir, stir! There’s your sauce. Is your pasta done? Cool. Toss it in there, too. Mix and top with grated cheese and serve.
Note: This sauce is fairly spicy because that’s how I like to make it, but you don’t need to. Just adjust the amount of cayenne, or eliminate it altogether and use a pinch of sweet paprika for flavor.