Sunday 3 February 2008

Muhammara by Moonlight

The Moonlight Cinema in the Royal Botanic Gardens (Gate D, Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra) has become a Melbourne institution. During the summer months, Melbournians can stroll along to the gardens after work laden with hampers and eskies, claim a piece of lawn with their rugs and beanbags, and enjoy a picnic followed by a movie under the stars. We were there last week, enjoying the atmosphere.

If you like to look in other people’s shopping trolleys at the supermarket and check out what the next table is eating in a restaurant, this is the place for you. I love preparing a yummy picnic and watching what others around us are eating. Many do the chip, crudités and dips. Finger food that doesn’t need cutlery and plates is ideal. Others bring takeaway stirfries, sushi, salads, corn on the cob. The pop of a champagne cork is heard and glasses clink somewhere. Pizza, ice-creams and coffee can be purchased from a van. Fizzy drinks or chocolate are given away free. It is hard to escape the feasting frenzy. We enjoyed a lovely spread of Muhammara, Hummus, crudités, dry biscuits, cheese, filo cigars, grubs, apricot slice, grapes.

Then as dusk falls, the trees are silhouetted against the city skyline. The skyscrapers and icons of the city are lit up in the distance – Government House, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the MCG. Dark bats swoop through the sky and cackle in the nearby trees. A screen unfurls and the film begins.

We saw Hunting and Gathering. An enjoyable film with many interesting foods featured - laughing cow cheese soup, buttery crepes and a hog’s head. It was in the film that I saw the most elegant picnic basket of the evening – a wicker hamper complete with Philibert’s family crest on the plates. That is what I call classy!

Now to the recipes. I made the Muhammara dip the night before. I had been dying to try it since I saw Cindy and Clotilde make it. The pomegranate molasses gave it depth of flavour. It was garlicky but a little sweet and I thought it could do with a bit more lemon juice (or seasoning?). E was impressed. It went well with cheesy biscuits or on roast vegetables.

The night before I bought some falafels for dinner in a local café, and as I waited I was attracted to a recipe for Apricot Slice as I browsed the magazines. My falafels cooked a bit too quickly. I only had the chance to memorise the ingredients but didn’t read on through the method before being interrupted by the falafels being ready. But it seemed interesting and portable so I decided to give it a try.

The Apricot Slice was good but not perfect. It had too much butter, unnecessary sugar and not enough apricots. But it was easy to make – no baking involved – and it was very morish. It seemed like a superior version of the ubiquitous lemon slice for someone like me who doesn’t like lemon or icing much and adores dried apricots. I hope sometime I will make this again and tweak the ingredients more but for now, it is a good slice that will last for at least a week and fill the spot!

Finally, I thought it might be useful to write a checklist because there is always something I forget. For us, the must-haves are rug, insect repellent, knife, tea towel for spills, plastic bag for rubbish, serviettes, plastic plates and cups, water, food, dessert, fruit. Did I forget anything? My mum would take a thermos, and if showers are forecast an umbrella might come in handy (yes, we have watched movies above a sea of umbrellas). We hired the beanbags for the first time which was a good decision. And the crudités definitely taste better out of a dalek lunchbox.

(adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)
Makes 2 cups

- 1 kg red capsicums, about 4 medium-large ones
- 100g (1⅓ cups) walnuts, toasted
- 30g pecans, toasted
- 130g (1 cup) unsalted cashews, toasted
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp chilli powder or chilli paste (or more to taste)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp walnut or olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
- 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or balsamic vinegar)

Cut red pepper into quarters removing core and seeds. Roast or grill til skins blistered and blackening. Place in plastic bag to sweat for 10-15 minutes and when cool enough peel skins off with your hands. Or roast and peel in your favourite way.

Toast the nuts in a dry frypan – this is optional – I didn’t do it but might try and remember next time. Clotilde suggests putting all ingredients in food processor to blend til smooth. I blended the nuts and red pepper in batches and mixed it all up in a mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings and refridgerate.

Muhammara is best made a day ahead. If you are not going to use all of it, it can be frozen in a container til needed.

Apricot Condensed Milk Slice
(from The Australian Women’s Weekly)

250 (1½ cups) dried apricots
2 x 250g marie biscuits (or 1 pkt biscuits and 2 cups coconut)
250g butter, melted
¾ cup brown sugar (I didn’t use)
395ml tin of sweetened condensed milk
coconut for sprinkling

Place apricots in food processor to finely chop. Place Marie Biscuits in the food processor to mill to fine crumbs. Mix all ingredients together. Press into swiss roll tray (I lined mine with baking paper). Sprinkle with coconut. When cooled, cut into squares and store in the fridge.

On the stereo:
least complicated: indigo girls


  1. How wonderful to be able to enjoy the flowers, an evening show AND a picnic! Unfortunately, Alaska isn't really a good place for outdoor movies - but picnics and hiking make a great combination. The red pepper dish sounds delish - I'll have to give it a try the next time red peppers are on sale (although pomegranate molasses might be trickier to find).

  2. What a lovely way to spend an evening. Sounds picture perfect! Muhammara is one of my favorite dips. It's funny because I have been making it for years and called it "roasted red pepper walnut dip" and then I saw it on a cooking show and was enlightened when the host called it Muhammara. It's one of my favorite dips.

  3. I'm particularly happy that you both enjoyed the muhammara! I suspect that the taste of pomegranate molasses may vary a bit from brand to brand - my bottle is very sweet and somewhat sour, but I remember sampling a more acrid version at a friend's house. I think this recipe may very well need more sweetener, lemon juice or seasoning depending on the particular molasses you have and, as always, personal taste.

    We are lucky to have long summer evenings at the Moonlight cinema, aren't we? :-)

  4. What a cool place to go to! It reminds me of a scene in a movie! I just wish I could remember which movie! Old age is setting in fast! It wouldn't be the wedding planner would it? Maybe not! That is going to drive me crazy now! Anyway the romantic lead is at an outdoor movie and is asked to dance! Someone remember please, before I go loopy!
    Anyway, what I was trying to say, is what a fabulous place to have a picnic and I like your lunch box, although I would go with a picture of David Tennant over a dalek, I always found them terrifying as a child! Oh Boy! I am wittering on, see, old age!

  5. thanks Monika - i love any excuse for a picnic - hope you managed to find pomegranate molasses - it has a unique taste!

    Thanks lisa rene - that is funny you had always just called it roasted red pepper walnut dip rather than muhammara because I found a recipe with a similar name in one of my cookbooks that I think I had tried before but the seasonings in this one are more interesting!

    thanks Cindy - muhammara is lovely and I have done as clotilde suggested and froze some so we didn't get overkill but will look forward to more in a few weeks! I'm hoping for another moonlight cinema trip before the end of summer so maybe it will make another appearance there!

    thanks holler - moonlight cinema is a wonderful place to go to and I am sure I have seen a similar one in a movie recently but my memory is wonky too! I am a latecomer to Dr Who because I was too terrified of the theme music as a child to watch an episode and it was on at dinner time - but luckily E has helped me overcome my fear so I can enjoy the delightful David Tennant as the Doctor. But the daleks are still scary, except on lunchboxes :-)

  6. This is amazing. I never would have thought muhammara is so easy to make. I plan to make a big batch and start taking some for lunch (I've suggested my readers do the same here, Thanks so much!


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