Herbs, pomegranate and Persian spices

The weather is fickle. Perverse, even. Christmas holidays passed with the sun mostly playing hide and seek behind clouds. Now, as we pack away our beach stuff and get back to work, we are hit by a heat wave. Like, 43°C (109°F).

The air was a humid, too-warm blanket. Even the lawyers and bankers forgot to look sharp. I just wanted to eat endless slices of watermelon while dreaming of air conditioning. 

Rather than eat endless slices of watermelon (watermelon obsession is a story for another day), I concocted a herb and pomegranate salad sprinkled with Persian spice mix, served with cool white feta cheese and baguettes. The salad was lively and crisp, and the spice mix – with rose petals, cinnamon and other good things – was just a little bit intoxicating. This helped to revived flagging appetites and gave us the will to get through a humid, windless evening.

pomegranate salad1

This salad was (wildly) adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks: The Legendary Cuisine of Persia.

Herb and pomegranate salad: this came from a cheese and herb spread. The original recipe is a simple mixture of a few herbs, finely chopped and mixed with labne, feta and butter. By serving the cheese separately (and omitting the butter), I had a clean, refreshing herb salad.  

The first time I made the cheese spread, mixing the herbs like this seemed to violate all the rules. But after the first mouthful, the rules didn’t matter. I was in love with the beautiful cacophony of flavours, like a jazzy troupe going all out with its best improvisation. The great thing is you can mix and match the herbs with different effect each time. This time, we had brooding coriander playing off sassy dill and mint, while baby spinach became friends with everyone.

Spice mix or advieh: this decadent spice mix was adapted from a special occasion mix, Advieh No. 3. Shaida’s introduction evoke the aromas of Persian kitchens:

A popular advieh blend from the south of Iran includes coriander seed, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and black pepper … some mixtures will however also include nurmeg or cloves. […] Advieh from the sunny uplands of the Persian plateau and from the north-western region contains dried rose petals which give a rare and heady fragrance when sprinkled over delicate rice dishes during the steaming process.

Since I was using spices on a salad, I toasted them slightly to get rid of the raw taste. After adding the spice mix, the salad became that much more exciting – delicate, heady, and exciting.

And I still had fresh mint for Turkish mint tea after dinner…

pomegranate salad2

Herb and pomegranate salad with Persian spice mix

(adapted from / inspired by The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, Margaret Shaida, published by Grub Street, London)

Serves: 2, as part of a very light meal or as a side

Ingredients

1 pomegranate
40g each coriander leaves, mint leaves and dill
50 grams baby spinach leaves
3 tbsp verjuice (or substitute mild apple cider vinegar)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp pomegranate molasses

Spice mix

(this will make a lot more than you need for the salad. Store the rest in a airtight container)

60g / 2oz plain shelled pistachio nuts
30g / 1oz cinnamon
15g / ½ oz each cardamom seed and dried rose petals
10g ground cumin

Method

1. For the spice mix, toast cinnamon, cardamon seeds and cumin in a flat frying pan over low heat, until the mixture becomes (more) fragrant. Mix with the other spice mix ingredients and set aside.

2. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate and set aside. (To remove pomegranate seeds: use a sharp knife to cut a circle around the pomegranate, just deep enough to cut through the skin. Then, twist the two halves gently, but firmly, until the pomegranate breaks in two. Pick out the seeds and discard the white membrane.)

3. Roughly chop the dill. Toss the herbs and baby spinach leaves together, scatter pomegranate seeds over the top, I used less than a quarter of the seeds for this salad.

4. Whisk verjuice, olive oil and pomegranate molasses together, drizzle over the salad. Scatter over about 1 tbsp of the spice mix. Optional: serve with soft white cheese and fresh bread.

Notes:

The original recipe for Advieh No. 3 asks for 20 pistils of saffron and 60g of sugar. I omitted sugar and saffron this time, as this salad would not have shown off saffron’s full fragrance or colour, and sugar would have made the salad too sweet for my taste. I have used No. 3 advieh, including saffron and sugar, in a polow served at a dinner party. The result was golden rice glistening with butter, decorated with rose petals, red barberries and green pistachios. The guests were drawn to that corner of the table and soon there was no polow left.

For more ideas on cooking with pomegranate seeds, see blogs like My Persian Kitchen.

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