Middle Eastern Butternut Squash dip

This recipe is inspired by the Turkish muhammarri dip, traditionally made with roasted peppers.

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We love the fragrant spices of this region, adding flavor and heat to familiar ingredients.

We used butternut squash, basically because it was available and it’s in season. We originally made this for a holiday party in December, when we have vegan and vegetarian friends coming and wanted to make something delicious they could enjoy. Too often, they are left with salad or bread as an afterthought or condiment sandwich. The walnuts in this dip provide protein and taking the time to toast them adds depth of flavor. We served this with crostini, crudites, and crackers. It’s best warm but gets tastier over the next few days.

We really like how the spices enhance the natural sweetness of the squash. By now in winter we have been eating butternut, acorn and delicata squashes for months. As a soup, roasted on salad and filled with various grains. We needed to reinvent it.

Two of the spices in this dish, we just can not get enough of lately. Za’atar which is a middle eastern spice blend of sesame, woody herbs and sumac. Sumac itself is a dried berry with citrus-like flavor and brilliant red color that you’ll want to top off the dip with more.

In the last few years, we have experimented with some different food trends. Tim felt it was important as a chef to understand what people are eating and why. Cauliflower pizza crust or “rice” is totally delicious. We have made several different veggie burgers, some with lentils, some with beans or nuts as their base. Since moving to Empire last year we have been cooking more for vegetarian friends. It has provided an unknown challenge as a chef and a cook, making interesting food, without meat. It’s also important to make sure we get balanced nutrition and protein from beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, not from just cheese. Believe us, we have never met a cheese we didn’t like.

Most of us can say that after eating a cheesy pizza loaded with pepperoni and or a burger and fries that you feel ready for a nap, have heartburn or indigestion. Isn’t getting older just the best? Sometimes when the busy season is upon us we both can be working 10 or more hour shifts. We joke that if they made people food in a can we would eat better than our cat for once. Sometimes you are just so hungry you can’t think and just need sustenance. Luna and Clif bars are life savers but that gets boring pretty fast. When we eat a meal prepared ahead of time when we have our head together, we are fueled for the day, we are not weighed down by it and we’re happy with the choices we’ve made.

We look forward to sharing some of our favorite recipes for healthy filling meals. We hope you enjoy our first installment

Yield: 4 cups Time:1 hour 10 minutes (30 minutes active)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 1b butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed

8 ounces walnut pieces

1 ½ tsp Za’atar

1 tsp sumac, plus more for garnish

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

2 Tb olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup Fustini’s pomegranate balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste


Roast butternut squash, skin on in a roasting pan, cut side down. Add a splash of water to the pan, cover with foil. You want the squash to soften to be easily puree, not caramelize.

With 10 minutes of cooking time left, toast the walnuts on a sheet pan in the oven. Give the pan a shake or stir once.

Remove the squash when knife tender, a knife should effortlessly pierce through. Allow squash to cool slightly. Remove nuts when slightly brown and fragrant, allow to cool on the pan a moment.

In a food processor pulse the walnuts until roughly chopped, remove half the nuts, reserve for garnish. Continuing to puree walnuts, add squash and olive oil, pureed till combined and smooth. Add all spices through lemon juice to the processor and mix. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with reserved nuts, sumac and the balsamic vinegar on top.