Total time: 40 minutes, plus cooling and chilling times
Note: This spread is concentrated and spicy, and is served in smaller amounts than others. Serve it with fresh pita bread or other Middle Eastern flatbread. You can find Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets.
1 red bell pepper
1 cup walnuts (about 3½ ounces), plus a few walnut halves for garnish
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 red Fresno or red jalapeño (optional), cut in a few pieces, with seeds left in
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling if desired
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses or strained fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (coarsely ground, semi-hot Middle Eastern red pepper) or ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 or 2 tablespoons water (optional)
About 2 teaspoons minced Italian parsley (for garnish)
1. Heat the broiler.
2. Set the bell pepper on a slotted broiler pan or in a roasting pan, lined with foil if you like. Broil, turning the pepper a few times, until it is charred on all surfaces, about 7 to 12 minutes. Remove from the broiler.
3. If you have broiled the pepper on foil, enclose it in the foil; otherwise put the pepper in a bowl and cover, or put it in a plastic or paper bag and close the bag. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel with the aid of a paring knife. Cut it in half, draining off any liquid. Cut the pepper in 8 or 10 pieces, discarding the cap and seeds.
4. Grind the walnuts and bread crumbs in a food processor until finely ground. (You can also make this spread in 2 batches in a mini food processor.) Remove the mixture from the processor.
5. If using a Fresno or jalapeño chile, chop it finely in the processor.
6. Return the walnut mixture to the processor. Add the pieces of peeled sweet red pepper, the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, sugar, paprika and cumin, and process to a paste, leaving a few chunks if you like.
7. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. If you prefer a spread that is thinner or moister, stir in water by the teaspoon.
8. Season to taste with salt. Adjust the heat if desired with Aleppo pepper or cayenne. Taste and add more pomegranate molasses or sugar if you like. Refrigerate for 1 hour to blend flavors.
9. Serve it spread on a plate and garnished with parsley and walnut halves. If you like, drizzle the spread with a little olive oil.