Fairly nondescript on the outside, the inside is loaded with juicy scarlet-red coloured arils (seed pod) artfully arranged, using thin white membranes as dividing sheets. There is something both exquisite and majestic about the sweet and sour tasting pomegranate.
The ancient city of Granada in Spain agrees with this; an open pomegranate is the official symbol of La Granada, which was once known as Garnatah and was the last stronghold of the Muslim rule in Spain. Granada is, in fact, the Spanish word for pomegranate and the fruit grew abundantly in the region.
In 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered the city, they considered it to be such a significant milestone that a pomegranate was added to their coat of arms.
It is even said that after conquering Garnatah, Queen Isabella stood with a pomegranate in her hand and declared,
“Just like the pomegranate, I will take over Andalusia seed by seed.”
Pomegranates are not so easy to eat but they are both delicious and nutritious. There are many ways to enjoy this heavenly fruit which is native to the Middle East particularly Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
The Persian cuisine is perhaps the best known for its extensive use of pomegranate. Ash-i-Anar is a vibrantly coloured hearty soup comprised of pomegranate juice, lentils, meatballs, mint and various spices. Pomegranate syrup and crushed walnuts are stewed with pieces of chicken to create the rich and tangy stew Khoresht Fesenjan. Dried arils known as anardana are used as a spice in Iran, as well as in Pakistan.
In Palestine, aside from being enjoyed as a fruit, pomegranate seeds are found in salads and as garnish for desserts. In Turkey, pomegranate sauce is used as a salad dressing and to marinate meat. Pomegranate syrup is also used to make muhammara, a roasted red pepper, walnut and garlic spread which is popular in both Turkey and Syria.
Both countries also use arils to make trail mix, granola bars and salads, in addition to sprinkling them on yogurt and ice cream. Even neighbouring Greece uses the tempting fruit to make kolliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate arils, sugar, almonds and other seeds to be served at memorial services. And kollivozoumi, a creamy broth made from boiled wheat, arils and raisins.
Meanwhile in Azerbaijan a sauce from pomegranate juice known as narsharab is usually served with fish and kebabs. And pomegranate juice, which has long been a popular drink in our region, is now widely available in many parts of Europe and North America.
Nutritionists consider the pomegranate to be a super food.
They are low in calories but loaded with vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, and fibre. The white pips and the thin outer skin are edible and actually the part of the fruit that is loaded with fibre and also rich with antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
According to one Prophetic (PBUH) tradition, eating pomegranates is a great way to strengthen the digestive system. Below are some delicious ways to enjoy this celebrated fruit.
2 1/2 cups arils
1 1/3 cup diced cucumber
1 - 3 jalapeños, seeds removed and minced
1/4 - 1/3 cup finely chopped
1/3 cup diced red onion
squeeze of half a lime
Combine all of the prepared ingredients in a bowl, starting with using only 1 jalapeño. Stir to combine. Test for heat preference and add additional jalapeño if desired.
4 cups arils
2 crunchy pears, chopped
3 crispy apples, chopped
1 cup walnuts, lightly crushed
pinch of salt
2 limes (1/2 cup juice)
1½ tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
10 mint leaves, chopped
Place arils in a large bowl. Add the pears and apples and mix together. Sprinkle the walnuts and salt on top.
To make the dressing whisk together the lime juice, honey, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, and mint until smooth. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix together.
Store in the fridge until ready to serve. If the apples begin to brown, squeeze more lime juice on them.
Pomegranate Olive Oil Cake
¾ cup arils
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted
4 whole eggs, room temperature
1 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 lemon, zested and juice strained
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1–2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown (or raw) sugar
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour the bottom and inside of the cake pan. Sift together flour and baking powder. Whip the eggs at high speed until about tripled in volume.
Add the granulated sugar and continue to whip on high speed. Whip the eggs and sugar until they are pale and stiff — generally about three to five minutes. Incorporate the lemon zest, salt and strained lemon juice. Incorporate the melted butter, while slowly mixing.
Add one cup of the flour; mix until incorporated. On medium speed, add ½ cup of olive oil. Add the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated; scrape if necessary. Whilst mixing, add the last of the olive oil in a steady stream; scrape the bowl.
Mix again on high speed for about 30 seconds to ensure a thorough and even mixture. In a separate bowl, add ¾ cup of arils and one teaspoon of flour to lightly coat them. Gently fold the coated arils into the prepared cake batter.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan. Generously sprinkle the brown sugar over the top of the cake and place the cake into the oven. After about 15 minutes, rotate the cake 180 degrees and bake for another 20–25 minutes. The cake should be golden brown on top and the center should spring back when pressed lightly.
Allow the cake to cool completely before removing from the pan. Add ¼ cup arils as garnish and a drizzle of fine olive oil.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 25th, 2015