Shugyo and Mohammarah: East meets Middle-East

In Recipies on June 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm


We were standing in the checkout line of our local food mass marketer when we overheard a female customer inquiring when the chain was going to hold another one of their “sack sales” on meat.  “Jim has to have meat at every meal” she explained to her companion. “It’s ham or bacon for breakfast, turkey or chicken for lunch, and something ‘beef’ for supper.”


The concept of demanding meat at every meal seems so foreign to our table.  Generally real meat is a treat saved for Shabbat.  It is amazing how wonderful a steak tastes when you only allow yourself 5-8 ounces of it every few months.  It was the way our ancestors ate and, from it, we derived a list of very special foods for special occasions.


Mrs. Phyne Dyner and I chatted about what we overheard on the brief drive home.  Out of that conversation, came our June of meatless shugyo.


Shugyo is a Japanese martial arts term meaning “austere training”.  Samurai engaged in regular, harsh training throughout the year, but devoted a set period of time during which the training was severe and exhausting.  It was a time when the samurai challenged themselves to endure the severe conditions of wartime as part of their regular training cycle.


No water here unless you bring it yourself. (Photo: The Adventure Crew)

We were not new to the concept of shugyo.  In years past we hiked and wilderness camped with friends in the desolation of the Guadalupe Mountains or in the Big Bend country along the Texas-Mexico border.


Our little band would set a weight limit for rucksacks and each participant would be permitted to carry no more than that weight for a weekend outing.  This is no potable water in either of the locations where we hiked, so much of the permitted weight consisted of packed water rations.  If the weight limit was set at forty pounds for a 48-hour trip, there was little else on the “must have” packing list for the weekend.


It was a fun diversion and it was exhilarating to complete a weekend with only about a half-gallon of water left.  The following weekend was a celebration of beer and barbeque for all of the participants.

(Note:  We did not simply decide to take off on a long walk in the high desert to test ourselves.  We worked up to the adventure with a series of shorter, safer hikes.  We always had an expert hiker familiar with the desolate surroundings with us on our little expeditions.  Wandering around in the kind of environment found in these mountains with no experience and with little practice can have a tragic ending.)

“I know”, I said to Mrs. Phyne Dyner, “let’s have a shugyo month of no meat!”


She liked the idea.  After all, Memorial Day weekend had been a virtual festival of grilled meats.


And, even though we intended to permit meat eating for Shabbat, we decided to start off our austere training with the first Shabbat being entirely meatless.


We looked at each other and said, simultaneously…”Mohammarah!”


Mohammarah is a pungent sweet and sour sauce made from walnuts.  I had made a thinner version for years, using it as a dipping sauce for barbequed chicken legs and wings.  It also makes an outstanding condiment for sandwiches.


Sometime around 2000, I found a recipe in the Jewish Forward using mohammarah with fried sweet peppers tossed with pasta.  I tried it and it became an iconic summertime meal at our table.  Try this yourself and you will be asking, “Where’s the meat?”


The ultimate Summertime supper!

Mohammarah im eetreelyot (Mohammarah with Noodles) became a hot weather favorite.




First, make the mohammarah.  You will need:







1 C walnuts, sorted and cleaned

½ to 1 C bread crumbs or matzo meal

1 TBS lemon juice

1-3 TBS olive oil

1 TBS paprika

1-2 tsp ground cumin (according to preference)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp kosher salt

¼ to ½ tsp cayenne pepper


Mix all of the above (starting with only 1 TBS of olive oil) in a food processor.  Drizzle oil into the mixture until a very thick paste develops.  This stuff stores well for over a week in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer.  I often make several small containers of this and freeze it for later use.


Next, make up the noodles and peppers.


1 pkg angel hair pasta, cooked al dente (may use spaghetti), rinsed and cooled

2 sweet, red peppers cut into thin strips

2-3 TBS olive oil

1-2 jalapeno peppers diced or cut into strips

1-2 Roma tomatoes, diced

1 C sweet onion (or green onion), diced

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the sliced red peppers and sauté for 5-6 minutes.  The peppers should remain crisp.  Add the jalapeno peppers and sauté for an additional minute.  Reduce heat to low.  Stir in one half of the mohammarah you made above or all of it if you want a very rich dish.  Toss this with the cooked pasta, diced onion and Roma tomatoes.  Serve hot, cold, or anywhere in between.


We serve ours with fresh fruit, a garden salad and a pita round with which to scrape up every bit of the mohammarah.


This dish is such a favorite of ours, that it will probably be reprised several times during our June, meatless shugyo.




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