Sunday, 6 November 2011


In almost every culture, pomegranate seeds represent fertility and good fortune; it is common in parts of the eastern Mediterranean to give pomegranates as good luck tokens to families moving into a new home. The Greek myth to explain the changing seasons turns on the five pomegranate seeds eaten by Persephone which commit her to spending six months in the underworld (when winter comes to the world as Demeter, her mother and goddess of fertility, mourns her absence) and six months back on earth (when the green leaves return as Demeter celebrates). It is easy to see why Persephone was tempted by the seeds: bite into their crunchy texture and little bombs of sharp flavour explode in your mouth.
 Although pomegranates originated in Iran and Azerbaijan, they have now spread across the world, popular for their flowers and fruitTheir sweet-sour taste is also highly prized by cooks; here is a recipe, appropriately from Azerbaijan and adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen, that depends on their sweet acidity. The spices, nuts and juice combine to create a rich, thick, highly flavoured sauce, just right for the start of winter.

1            large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
750g      stewing lamb, cubed
1/4 tsp   turmeric
1/4 tsp   saffron threads, crushed
1/2 tsp   cinnamon
1 tsp      ground fennel seeds
1/2 litre  pomegranate juice
3 tbs      pomegranate molasses
2 tbs      tomato paste
6           soft prunes, pureed
100g      ground walnuts
1/2 litre  chicken stock
2 tsp      honey
250g      chestnuts (baked in the oven or ready cooked in a tin)
100g      dried apricots (soaked for a couple of hours if they are hard and dry)
2 tsp      turkish pepper flakes
              salt and pepper
              fresh mint and pomegranate seeds to garnish.
Serves 4.
Saute the onions and garlic over medium heat in a large, heavy pan until golden.
Increase the heat and brown the lamb cubes, stirring all the times.
Stir in turmeric, saffron, cinnamon, fennel seeds and stir for a few minutes.
Add the pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, tomato paste, pureed prunes, ground walnuts and stock. Bring up to the boil and then cover and simmer over a low heat for 90 minutes.  If sauce gets too thick, add more pomegranate juice to loosen it.
Add honey, chestnuts, apricots, pepper flakes and salt; simmer for another 10 - 15 minutes. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Garnish with plenty of fresh mint and pomegranate seeds and serve with steamed rice.

The mint and pomegranate seeds add colour and flavour to the dish.

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