Our pomegranate tree is loaded. It doesn’t fruit well every year. Good mango years seem to be good pomegranate years too. Pomegranate season opens up a whole heap of Middle Eastern recipes, and Middle East (if I had to pick just one) would have to be my favourite cuisine. I love the reliance on fresh, in season ingredients, the way beans and lentils are used so extensively, the way vegetables are celebrated rather than relegated to bit parts, the way very humble ingredients are elevated.
Many Middle Eastern recipes require pomegranate molasses, which is just pomegranate juice reduced right down to a syrup, usually with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added. I think the main reason though is because they have a short season, and while they are in season, you can usually just use fresh juice with all its vitamin C and antioxitants intact.
Pomegranates are spectacular in salads. The little crimson jewels look gorgeous, and make little zings of acid sweetness that pop between your teeth. Pomegranate juice is great in dressings, sauces, marinades – anything where you are looking for tart and sweet.
My platter this week was centred around a bowl of smoky eggplant and pomegranate dip, sort of like babaganoush but with pomegranate instead of lemon juice.
Step one is to char an eggplant. This post has pictures of the methods I use. You can still make this with fried or baked eggplant, but smoky eggplant is another thing altogether and it’s worth doing. While you are charring the eggplant, roast a clove or two of garlic too, in its skin, till soft.
Step two is to juice a pomegranate. The easy way to do this is to cut the pomegranate in half, then hold one half upside down over a bowl, with your fingers spread. Tap it sharply on the back with the back of a heavy knife. The arils (seeds) will fall out, through your fingers, and into the bowl. Do this for both halves, then blend the arils and strain off the juice. You will get about 1/3 cup of juice from a large pomegranate. Reserve a good quantity of arils for garnishing.
Step three is to make macadamia butter. You can substitute tahini – I used half and half this time. Both work in different ways. If you are using macadamia butter, dry roast 1/3 cup of roughly chopped macadamias in a heavy frypan for just a couple of minutes till they start to turn light gold. Tip them into a mortar and pestle and grind to a paste. (A food processor just doesn’t do it – they need to be ground. It only takes a couple of minutes with a mortar and pestle though.)
Once you have the ingredients, it’s just a matter of blending the flesh of a large eggplant with the juice of a large pomegranate (or use a medium one of both), with a clove or two of roasted garlic, a pinch of salt, and a couple of big spoonfuls of macadamia butter or tahini.
Serve with pita bread and/or crudites for dipping.
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