19 November 2007

Nutty Pumpkin Dip

People are often surprised by the use of pumpkin and winter squash in Middle Eastern food. Perhaps because pumpkin is often looked down upon in other cuisines, or because many people associate the Middle East with a warmer climate, or simply because we associate it with American pumpkin pie, but winter squashes are quite beloved from Algeria to Lebanon to Yemen. There's even a saying about how the Prophet Muhammad loved pumpkin, though this is not possible because pumpkin is a New World crop. (I use the term pumpkin loosely, as the preferred squash in the Middle East is the similar large turban squash). Today, roast pumpkin seeds (bizr) are probably the most popular snack in the region, and pumpkin finds its way into Moroccan lamb tagines, Lebanese pumpkin dumplings, and is caramelized in chunks as sweet treats and grated and transformed into jams and desserts.

This recipe is basically the pumpkin version of hummus, and it is one of my favorite uses of pumpkin in Middle Eastern cuisine. Instead of chickpeas, the recipe combines cooked pureed pumpkin with tahini, garlic, and lemon. You’ll often find this pumpkin dip on tables as an appetizer, perhaps garnished with flecks of parsley or jewels of pomegranate seeds, and its nutty sweet aroma makes it as delicious as it is beautiful. But as wonderful as it is as a dip, I actually love to serve this as a side dish at dinner, much like you might serve a butternut squash puree, and I even like to thin it with a bit of broth and serve it as a soup. Which means that you have three very good serving options for one very good recipe. And actually, sometimes when I serve it as a dip I add a few chickpeas to the mix, keeping that hummus inspiration, option four.

In our house, we’ve adopted this Middle Eastern pumpkin dip as an appetizer at Thanksgiving or at a buffet over the holidays, it looks so festive with its sparkly pomegranate seed garnish. I'll stop now before I give you yet another serving idea, so you can go forth, spread the love of pumpkin, and some cheer as the holiday season is just beginning!

Nutty Pumpkin Puree (Mouttabal al-Yaqteen)
This versatile puree is usually served as a dip and it makes a delicious winter appetizer. I also like to serve it as a side dish at dinner. This makes a lot, so you can halve it depending on the crowd.

2 lbs fresh pumpkin or other winter squash
2 garlic cloves
3/4 cup tahini
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp ground cumin
pinch salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds, or pomegranate molasses, or parsley, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut the squash in half, place cut side down on a greased baking sheet, and roast until completely tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, place the garlic, tahini, lemon, salt, and cumin in a blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture is well combined and lightens in color slightly.
2. Use a metal spoon to scoop out the squash flesh and transfer it directly to the blender jar. Blend the mixture until smooth. Adjust the consistency with a little bit of water if necessary. Transfer to the refrigerator to store until serving.
4. To serve, spread the dip in a serving bowl and sprinkle pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over top.

Variation: Pumpkin Hummus- add one cup cooked chickpeas to the mixture before pureeing.


Anonymous said...

Oh, this looks amazing! We've been going crazy for that Moro salad Molly posted about a few weeks ago which has pumpkin, chickpeas and tahini dressing, and this sounds like another spectacular incarnation of those same flavors. Just wondering, do you serve the soup variation hot?

Dori said...

What a cool way to eat pumpkin!

Mercedes said...

Hi Melissa- yes, that Moro salad is wonderful, isn't it? I usually serve the soup warm. There are a lot of warm yogurt and tahini soups in the Middle East, and so I think it kind of falls in with that category of warm dishes. No matter how you serve it, it's a comforting dish.

Bethany said...

I love the added pomegranate seeds.

Anonymous said...

Very unique! I like the addition of pomegranate seeds on the top too!

Happy Thanksgiving Mercedes, to you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Lovely! I bet the pomegranate gives it a lovely crunch - I often sprinke a few seeds on houmous to give it a bit of texture. Does Mouttabal mean dip - it's a word I have seen around in other similar contexts but quite different recipes?

Quinne said...

Hi Mercedes :) Just popping in to say that I hope your Thanksgiving was a lovely day! Love to you, Q

Mercedes said...

Hillary, Quinne- thank you for the wishes, I hope you all had great Thanksgivings yourselves!

Mouttabal basically means something mashed or pounded. In many parts of the Middle East the mashed eggplant dip is called moutabbal, not baba ghanoush. It's root in Arabic comes from the same root as that of "tabla" a drum.

By the way, mukhalat is something mixed or pureed, and mutahin is something ground, in case you ever need to know.

Lara Dunston said...

I just love your blog! Especially the Middle Eastern recipes, as we're travel writers based in Dubai and were recently in Syria (we're finishing a book on Syria and Lebanon now). Unfortunately I don't have time to cook these days, but my husband does and we're both real foodies - we're travel writers so we live in hotels most of the time! - but your blogs still really inspire me, not necessarily to cook, but more so to travel. I'm so pleased I've discovered you! I have a little blog about what I find cool about travel and what inspires us all to travel, and I've just written about food blogs, including yours, and how inspirational they are in terms of travelling. I've linked to you and I will be checking in regularly.

Anonymous said...

This looks fabulous!! I swear, this is getting ridiculous. I just found your site and feel compelled to comment on almost every post with the same comment: "YUM!"

Little Dog Boutique said...

Just found your blog. I want to make that pumpkin hummus! I am just getting started blogging. Finding more Recipes is awesome. Have a Happy New Year. Bonnie, Miss Tiara designer at LittleDogBoutique.com

9876511 said...

The recipe looks great, but that story about the Prophet must be apocryphal, since, unless I'm sorely mistaken, all squash species originate in the Americas.

Karen said...

'sounds' delicious. I love all the ingredients in the recipe.

Anonymous said...

anyone actually try this recipe?

azita said...

This is genius! I MUST try it! So happy to have found your site.

Oowho Gma said...

Whoa!! Look at the age of these comments!! Does anyone have a link to the Moro salad, and or Molly's posts??? Sounds SO yum. Thx from Colorado!! Peggy

Mercedes said...

The Moro salad can be found on this blog as well, search for pumpkin chickpea salad. Also, I'm looking at my above comment and my Arabic is wrong, "mouttabbel" actually means spiced, and is used as a generic term for a dip. It does not come from the some root as tabla. Arabic fail.