The Pomegranate is the first fruit ever cultivated by man and always on my list of what to buy at the market if available. This noble fruit with healing properties hails from the berry family and is the favourite fruit of the Middle East, especially Iran. Known for a love for all things sour, Iran is the largest exporter of this jeweled delicacy and one can find around 740 varieties of pomegranate there. The Iranians love the fruit so much that they even celebrate it as a festival.
Most people I know love pomegranates but hate peeling the fruit and getting to those seeds.
There are a few methods Iranians have come up with.
The first one involves getting a bowl of water where one separates the seeds from the peal in it. The seeds sink to the bottom and the white membrane floats up.
Some say freezing the fruit makes it easier to separate. Another method is massaging the fruit with your fingers, puncturing the skin at one end, and sucking out the juice much like a mango.
One can also slice off the top, run a knife through the distinct white separations and pull it apart.
My favourite method though, comes from a man who lives far far away from this ancient Persian land and is one of my favorite chefs. Enter Mr. Jamie Oliver. He simply cuts the fruit into two halves, gets himself a large bowl, takes a rolling pin in one hand, and the fruit in the other, seed side facing down. He then proceeds to happily smack it with the pin removing whatever frustration he has and hey presto the seeds fall into the bowl, and you’ve got to the fruit in seconds leaving you with only a few seeds to remove. Happy days!
This sweet and sometimes sour fruit comes in various sizes and tastes, both in its seed form and in colour. It is also pretty popular as a fresh fruit drink.
In Iran, they have juice stalls that serve only pomegranate and other toppings made from the fruit. Imagine a full stall dedicated to one fruit!
When Pomegranate is harvested in Autumn, it is juiced and boiled to a thick brown sauce called Rob-e-Anar. This is added to one of the most popular Iranian stews called Fesenjan. Fesenjan is eaten with steaming white rice and also contains, walnuts, chicken, and other spices.
In India, pomegranate seeds are used in it’s dried state. Know as Anardana it lends a beautiful acidity to curries, chutneys, and parathas. The Mexicans, Greeks, Turkish, Syrians, and most of the Middle East, all love pomegranate and use it for various dishes and drinks.
However, my absolute favourite product from the pomegranate is pomegranate molasses. I discovered it a few years ago when I entered the culinary world of the Middle East. This dark, sticky, sweet, yet acidic syrup has many uses.
Made by reducing pomegranate juice to 1/4 its volume or by optionally adding lemons and sugar. It is used in making drinks, drizzled over salads, as a marinade or glaze, in dressings, dips, stews, and even as a topping for ice cream, sorbets, puddings.
Jelly, jams, cakes, and chocolates. Chefs and food lovers seem to have discovered a whole new exciting world with pomegranates.
The next time you have someone visit the Middle East and they ask you if you’d like something special, let them bring back a bottle of pomegranate molasses. If you don’t have anyone headed towards this region make it yourself. There are many recipes for it on the net. Once made it can be stored in the refrigerator for quite a few months. Make sure however you are careful to separate the seeds from the rind or you may have a slightly bitter sauce on your hands. Also, you have to keep a close watch on it as the sauce thickens, reduces, and bubbles or you’ll end up with hard jelly.
Here is an easy salad that I make at home often using both pomegranate and the molasses.
1 juicing orange,
1 red onion,
A tbsp. of apple cider vinegar,
A handful of rocket leaves,
A handful of baby spinach,
Nuts- 2 tbsp. pine nuts or walnuts,
A few raisins,
Salad Dressing– 3 tbsp. Good quality olive oil, a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, and a tsp. of Pomegranate molasses.
Slice the onion into thin slivers and let them sit in the apple cider vinegar to pickle.
In a large salad bowl add the peeled, skinned, and segmented orange. Steam an unpeeled beetroot, cool and chop into 1” chunks. Dice the cucumber and tomato to approximately the same size as the cucumber. Add all this to the bowl along with a handful each of washed and air dried fresh rocket and baby spinach. Toast the nuts on a gentle heat in a pan and once cooled add these too. Reserve a few to top the salad). Add the raisins and the drained and freshly pickled onion.
For the dressing, shake all of the mentioned ingredients vigorously in a closed jar and pour it onto the salad. Mix all gently with your hands. Top with the remaining toasted nuts.
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