Papaya Muhammara

by Dr. Hennie Fisher

If the original of this classic Levantine sauce is not yet part of your cooking repertoire, make haste to learn it. The original Muhammara recipe hails from a city in Syria called Aleppo, but has become part of the broader Mediterranean repertoire. A good recipe can be found in a book on Jewish cooking by famed author, Claudia Roden. Meaning ‘reddened’ in Arabic, Muhammara is a paste-like sauce with numerous uses in the kitchen. Made from walnuts, roasted red peppers (or as the Americans refer to them, Bell Peppers), breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses and seasonings, it has rich umami flavours and is one of those things that once you start, you can almost not get enough of. The only negative aspect is that its shelf life is somewhat limited, even if stored in the fridge, because the peppers tend to ferment within 2 or 3 days. Therefore, resist the temptation to make too much at a time. If you should happen to get some inexpensive peppers, roast, peel and store them in the freezer to make smaller batches at a time.

This recipe uses drained papaya pulp in place of the red peppers to create a totally new version of Muhammara. Since it does not contain red peppers, it will last somewhat longer than the original recipe. It has a deep rich meaty flavour and compliments a range of cooked meats and vegetables. It is fruity and earthy and not entirely as Mediterranean as the original recipe. Try it spread on biscuits or even mixed in with freshly cooked pasta for a quick week-day meal. Use it when you are planning a Mediterranean style platter or as part of your mezze setup. In this instance it was used as a condiment in a Hot Dog, but it would work as well as a burger sauce.

Pomegranate molasses and sumac may not be easy to come by, but it is recommended that you try and source them. Pomegranate molasses is essentially just pomegranate juice that has been reduced to a beautiful gooey richness. Combined with the sumac, it provides complex acidic and sweet notes to a dish that would be difficult to recreate with alternative ingredients.

The recipe requires a bit of forethought and preparation, as the papaya pulp needs 2 or 3 days to drain. You could probably make the sauce with fresh papaya pulp, but that will result in a runny sauce with nothing of the thick unctuousness that you actually want. One day of draining would still be good, but the ideal would be to let the pulp drain for at least two or three days. This is also a great way to use a papaya that is a little over ripe and not entirely suitable to serve fresh anymore. Peel and cube the papaya, purée until very smooth in a liquidizer, and pour the pulp into a muslin-lined strainer over a bowl. Cover the entire bowl/strainer with cling-film and leave in the fridge to drain.

Ingredients for a large portion of Muhammara that could serve between 4 and 6 people (depending on the use):

  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 50 g toasted cashew nuts
  • 1 garlic clove, cut into small pieces
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) tomato paste
  • 50 g good quality fresh white bread (try to avoid government loaf)
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) pomegranate molasses
  • 1 small red fresh chilli, seeds removed and cut into pieces
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) sumac
  • 5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt
  • 250 g thick drained papaya pulp


Place all the ingredients into a liquidizer or a Nutribullet and blend on high for a few minutes until the mixture is evenly smooth. The smoothness of the sauce depends on how you want to use it, and personal preference. If you are going to pile it on toasted pita triangles, you want a sauce that is slightly chunkier and coarser and definitely not smooth and runny. If you are planning to use it as a pasta sauce, then purée it to a smooth, even consistency. Store in the fridge.