Tag Archives: pomegranate

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.

Continue reading

Pomegranate, and Syria, on my mind

Pomegranates: for many the word evokes images of biblical gardens, sensuous feasts and fertility myths. For me, it recalls The King of the Vitamin.

The King of the Vitamin was a juice shop In Aleppo, Syria. The counter and shop was crowded with bunches and bags of fruit, its decor and layout looked like a carnival stall. There were a number of juice shops on that street, a sight we became familiar with in the Middle East countries we visited two years ago.

image

the King of the Vitamin, on the street of fruit juice

Approaching the counter, I ordered in Arabic, hesitantly making unfamiliar, sinuous sounds from a phrasebook.

The beard man behind the counter smiled broadly. Another man began to squeeze cut pomegranates on a heavy duty citrus press. Deep red juice ran down the press and into a bowl below as he pulled the lever with force. I could almost see each translucent seed bursting under the pressure, giving up the ruby liquid inside. 

The emptied half pomegranate was taken off the press. Another went on the press. He filled a paper cup the size of a giant Starbucks latte. There must have been half a litre of pomegranate juice in that cup, extracted from maybe 10 pomegranates.

Then he started on another cup. Seeing my wide-eyed amazement, he briefly paused, mimed ‘body building’, and laughed with us.

I paid less than $1. The bearded man handed the cup to me with the by-now familiar phrase, “welcome to Syria.”

The juice was tart, tempered with just enough sweetness. The flavour was as intense as the colour, and so, so fresh I could almost smell the sun on the pomegranate tree. Forget old fashioned lemonade, this had a complex, nourishing taste that made my taste buds tingle for more. I may have done a little dance on the grey dusty pavement.

After the first sip, bottled pomegranate juice in Australian shops would always taste stale, plastic even.

Was it any surprise the King of the Vitamin became my favourite shop during our stay in Aleppo?

After two days, the bearded man with the broad smile began to greet us as regulars. We drank our juice at the counter, from glasses. “He should drink pomegranate juice to lose weight”, the juice press guy says pointing at Mr Gander, and we all laughed. We wondered, but never asked, which vitamin they were the king of.

From that time, I will always have a soft spot for pomegranates.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be writing about some recipes that showcase this fruit, in memory of the people in a country (Christian and Muslim alike) that gave us a glimpse of their tradition of hospitality, and welcomed us to their country, its incredible sights and food.

[As it turned out, we were there barely 12 months before the Arab Springs swept the region. Now we watch the news and wonder about the people we met, however briefly, during that trip.]

Note, photo of the King of the Vitamin is from Wandering Earl. We were trying to blend in and look less tourist-y (ha!) and didn’t take photos of restaurants or food vendors as a rule.