pomegranate

Finding Cultural Cohesion in Middle East Through A Cookbook

I came late to the Jerusalem cookbook, but as always in times of crises, sometimes inspiration finds you. At the end of a week dominated by headlines, I found an eggplant recipe that spoke to the interwoven food histories that exist in the Middle East. While faiths are varied, the food provides cross-cultural links that inspire celebration and conviviality rather than division.

In ancient Levantine, Asian, and European cuisines, eggplant is simply eaten fried. When an eggplant is broiled or roasted over a flame, the charred and blackened skin can be scraped away to reveal flesh that is both moist and sweet. In many Middle Eastern recipes, the resulting flesh is pureed further to make a variety of snack (meze). Keeping some of the burnt skin in the salad mentioned below adds a smoky depth. With minor additions, the salad can be adapted for all cuisines.

Eggplant Salad

(Adapted from: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi)

Eggplant – 1, cubed and baked

Tomatoes – 1, chopped and cubed

Cucumber – ½ chopped and cubed

Spring onions or shallot – 1, chopped finely

Fresh Parsley – 1½ tbsp

Lemon – juice from ½ lemon

Naan or Pita – 1

Yogurt – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Hard boiled Egg – 1, sliced into half

Olive oil – ½ tbsp

Mango pickle – 1 tbsp

Zhoug – 1 tbsp (optional)

  • Mix the cooked eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and egg.
  • Warm the naan or pita and lay it across the serving plate.
  • Spread yogurt across the pita bread. (The spread could also be hummus or tahini.)
  • Place the salad mixture over the naan or pita bread.
  • Drizzle olive oil on top.
  • Serve with mango pickle or zhoug.

Note: Zhoug is a condiment that combines fresh cilantro and parsley, green chilies, and dried aromatic spices of cardamom, cumin, and cloves. These ingredients, along with oil, sugar, salt and garlic are blended in a food processor to make a robust paste.

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Burnt Eggplant With Garlic, Lemon & Pomegranate Seeds

Eggplant – 2

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Lemon – 1, zest and juice

Flat leaf parsley – 3 stalks, remove leaves and chop roughly

Mint leaves – 3 stalks, remove the leaves and chop roughly

Pomegranate seeds – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Broil the eggplant under a broiler for about 1 hour, turning it every 15-20 minutes.
  • When all the sides are charred, remove and cool. The skin comes away easily. Using a fork, scrape the flesh away in a smooth top-to-bottom motion. Let the flesh drain in a colander to remove all the liquid.
  • Meanwhile, mix all of the remaining ingredients, keeping aside a few pomegranate seeds.Add these ingredients to the eggplant.
  • When ready to serve, heap the eggplant mixture onto a plate.
  • Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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Fruit of Knowledge: Pomegranate

Chris Antemann’s sculpture, “Fruit of Knowledge,” stacks red and purple jewel-toned fruits into a towering porcelain tower. The three fruits used, pomegranate, apple, and fig, are gathered from cultural paradises around the globe. Inspired by the theatrical sculpture, and by the seasonal abundance of pomegranates, I decided to use their ruby-red seeds to add festive color to my favorite green coriander chutney. Pomegranate juice and molasses are also used in cooking in many cultures. However, it was the dried seeds that I ended up using for an Indian dish – called chole, a favorite of A. and N’s.

Dried pomegranate seeds, called anardana, are used as a spice in Indian, Iranian, and Pakistani dishes. Available in Indian and middle eastern stores, the dried seeds give food both a sour flavor and subtle depth. Chole (chickpeas curry) uses a variety of spices, but the dish is especially good when it ends with a final sour flavor. Lime juice usually does the trick, but without any at hand, I substituted freshly-ground, dried pomegranate seeds.

Chickpea Curry (Chole)

Chickpeas (Garbanzo) – 15oz. can

Onion –1 large, chopped finely

Ginger –1-inch piece, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2-3, chopped finely

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Garam masala – 1½ tsp

Chili powder – ½ tsp

Ground coriander – 1 tsp

Tomato paste –1 tbsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Pomegranate seeds – ½ – ¾ tbsp, freshly ground

Vegetable oil – 1½ tbsp

Coriander (Cilantro) leaves for garnish

  • Drain the chickpeas in a colander, reserving some of the liquid from the can. Rinse the chickpeas in fresh water.
  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add cumin seeds to the hot oil.
  • Once it starts to pop (a few seconds), add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onions become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a minute, or until it starts to brown.
  • Add the spices (cumin, garam masala, chili, and coriander) and stir for a 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and chickpeas to the pan. Stir until the chickpeas are coated with the spices and tomato paste.
  • Add the reserved liquid and ½ cup of fresh water.
  • Turn the heat to low and cook for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Add the pomegranate seeds and salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Garnish with a few coriander leaves
  • Serve chickpeas curry hot with Indian bread, pita, or rice.

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Note: Buy whole seeds, as they keep fresh for a long time. Grind them as needed.

Pomegranate seeds can be used in chutneys for the sour flavor, in stews for added depth, and dry roasted and tossed for a crunchy texture in hummus or salad.