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eggplant and pomegranate dip

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.

The Recipe:

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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This is  dinner party fare, the kind of flavours you pull out of the hat to impress the Masterchef judges, if they should happen to call. The pomegranate sauce is the star. It tastes really good, and it doesn’t so much mask the kangaroo as outshine it, so it is a good way to introduce kangaroo to your slightly less adventurous friends.

Finely chop two desertspoons of fresh rosemary. Sprinkle it over both sides of 4  kangaroo steaks (about 600 gm altogether) and press it in. Let them sit for a few minutes while you prepare the side dishes – salad and/or vegetables. They go particularly well with a rocket-based green salad, and new season boiled baby potatoes with a bit of butter and parsley.

Extract the juice from around 4 pomegranates, to get a cup of juice. The easiest way to do this is to halve pomegranates, scoop the seeds out, blend to break them up and them strain through a sieve.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan and sear the kangaroo steaks, then continue to cook for a few minutes each side until they are medium rare. Take them out of the pan and let them rest while you make the sauce.

Pour in the pomegranate juice, a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Reduce until it is a nice sauce-like consistency.

Slice the kangaroo steaks diagonally, arrange on the plates and drizzle over the pomegranate sauce.

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This is what seasonal cooking is all about. The mangoes are all but finished, and now it’s pomegranates! Luckily pomegranates are also a superfood – high in vitamins C, A, E, potassium and folic acid, and higher than green tea in antioxidants.

This recipe uses the whole arils (or seeds) to give a little pop of sweetness as you bite into them. The macadamia pieces are optional – I’ve tried half with and half without, and we’ll see which my school-age reviewers prefer.

This is the second in my Muesli Bar Challenge series. I am aiming for a recipe a week that school age kids prefer to the overpackaged junk food marketed as suitable for lunch boxes. The Challenger has to be within the Witches Kitchen version of healthy and ethical, and it has to be easy enough for busy parents or kids themselves to make. (If you missed it, last week’s Mango Lunchbox Cake made the score one from one so far).

The Recipe:

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup wholemeal SR flour
  • scant teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Put these first 5 ingredients (all the dry ingredients) in the blender or food processor, and blend just enough to break up the oats and mix thoroughly.

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon plain yoghurt
  • 1/3 cup orange juice (juice of 1 orange)

Whisk these next 3 ingredients together in a small bowl and then stir into to the dry ingredients.

  • 2/3 cup pomegranate arils (one pomegranate)
  • 2/3 cup macademia pieces (optional)

Stir in the pomegranate arils (seeds), and, if you like, the macadamia pieces, and spoon the mix into muffin cups (makes 8 medium muffins)

Bake for 25 minutes or so until they spring back.

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Pomegranate season brings out the Middle Eastern food lover in me – not hard as this is one of my favourite cuisines. Capsicum (also in season) and pomegranate juice are the key ingredients in this dip/sauce/spread. I made it this weekend to take to a party as a dip, but it is also good as a sauce for chicken, tofu, or (specially yum) on lentil patties. Or as a spread on bread or in a wrap.

The traditional recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, which you can make by boiling down  pomegranate juice with sugar and a little vinegar to make a thick syrup. But it seems a pity to boil out all that wonderful vitamin C in the pomegranate juice, so this version uses the juice straight.

The recipe also calls for breadcrumbs. Since you want the finished dip to be smooth textured, this needs wholemeal or rye bread, not seedy or wholegrain bread.

Otherwise, it is all ingredients you’re likely to have on hand, and, although there’s a few processes to it, it can be put together in 15 minutes or so.

You need 1/3 cup pomegranate juice, which will be the juice of one large pomegranate. Put the arils (seeds) through the blender and strain off the juice.

Put one thick slice of bread (enough to make about 2/3 cup breadcrumbs) in the blender and pour over the pomegranate juice. Let it soak in while you assemble the rest.

Roast 2 capsicums over an open flame until charred. I use a cake rack over the gas flame set fairly low, and turn the capsicums with tongs until the skin is charred all over. It takes about 10 minutes. Put in a lidded container and let them cool slightly in their own steam. Then it will be easy to just rub off the outer charred layer.

Add the flesh (minus seeds) to the blender.

Meanwhile, in a dry pan, lightly toast about 1/3 cup nuts. The traditional recipe calls for walnuts, but I’ve substituted cashews and pecans successfully. Add them to the blender, along with in 2 cloves of garlic, a scant teaspoon of cumin powder, a chili (or a little chili powder), a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Blend until very smooth, then, very gradually with the blender running, pour in 1/4 cup olive oil. You are looking for it to emulsify like mayonnaise does. Taste and adjust the salt and lemon juice to taste.

It will thicken up a little in the fridge, and it is even better the next day after the flavours have mingled a little.

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