The pomegranate

Its ruby red juice is chock full of nutrients; its taste slightly sour but pleasantly tart. Its delicate blossoms spruce up the garden, its seeds add flavor to food, and the fruit itself brings beauty to the home.

Recent scientific research on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle has stirred up interest in certain foods. The pomegranate is a fruit that has gained in popularity throughout the world following a spate of articles on the benefits it and its juice can provide. The key word here is ‘antioxidant', because antioxidants are the biggest factor affecting food sales today.

The benefits for mankind of certain foodstuffs was understood even in prehistoric times by means of trial and error and without the sanction of scientific evidence. Then, with the advent of religion, the foodstuffs endorsed by the holy books were acknowledged as God’s blessings to Man. The pomegranate was one of them. Its name occurring in ancient literature, the pomegranate, which is regarded as the symbol of plenty, was a fruit about which legends grew up in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The pomegranate cannot be said to be widely used in western cuisines. Its home is in Iran and in the Himalayas of India, the regions in which it is most widely produced even today.

The Spaniards, who were introduced to the pomegranate by the Umayyads of Arabia, also brought it to the New World, and America today is the world’s third largest producer of the ruby red fruit, followed closely by Turkey as the fourth largest. The pomegranate continues to occupy a prominent place in the cuisines especially of Turkey and of the Middle Eastern countries in general.

Even the formation of the fruit of the pomegranate is a cause of wonder to man. The elegance of its blossom has been a source of inspiration to poets. In his poem, ‘Good Morning, Pomegranate Blossom, My Beloved', Feyzi Halıcı refers to his sweetheart as a pomegranate blossom. This poem was later immortalized in a composition by the late and well-known Turkish composer, Cinuçen Tanrıkorur. Developing out of a delicate flower, the pomegranate has a skin-like outer covering of special beauty in mottled colors ranging from bright red to dull green. The ones that exhibit more red are used as accents in the home, as well as taking pride of place as a motif in oil paintings.

With a skin-like texture, the outer covering of the pomegranate allows the fruit to be stored for a long time without spoilage. It can be kept up to six months in an environment of 80-85% humidity. Due to this property, the pomegranate headed the list of foods taken on long journeys in past centuries.

The crown of the pomegranate flower has inspired the crowns of kings. And inside the crowned fruit, the seeds are of a seductive beauty. Hundreds of small nectar-filled sacs covered with a thin, transparent membrane, they conjure up thoughts of spring in the human heart. A Turkish riddle, “I bought one at the market but when I got home it was a thousand,” springs immediately to mind. The occurrence of hundreds of seeds inside a single piece of fruit was regarded in earlier centuries as a symbol of plenty and certain traditions accordingly grew up around the pomegranate. One of them, still practiced until recently in both Iran and Turkey, is described by Nedim Atilla: “When we were children in Izmir, it was customary in almost every two-story seafront home with a cantilevered bay window to ‘break a pomegranate’ to ensure that the new year would be blessed with plenty. Some of the pomegranates that were picked starting from the first of September would be saved for the first of January. Following a leisurely breakfast on New Year’s Day, they would then be ceremonially broken by hand by the most elderly person in the home. Assiduously attacking dust bunnies the previous day, industrious housewives wouldn’t make a peep   when they came across scattered pomegranate seeds, which were instead honored in a nonsense verse as “seeds of light”. We kids meanwhile loved to eat pomegranates, and, if pomegranate ‘sherbet', had been prepared in advance, to crush between our teeth the seeds that were used as a garnish...”

The taste of the pomegranate is sweet, tart (sweet-sour) and sour, which makes it an indispensable ingredient in dishes from sweets to savories. Particularly when tartness is desired, the pomegranate, as either juice or seeds, adds a refreshing pungency to dishes of all kinds. Apart from the pomegranate, in traditional Turkish cuisine we also obtain sour tastes from fruit such as lemons, green plums, sour apples and apricots, unripe grapes, sumac, quince, sour cherries and green almonds. Pomegranates that are unsuitable for use on the table are made into pekmez’ (molasses) or ‘nar ekşisi', a thick, dark syrup used widely in salad dressings or as an accompaniment to grilled pearl onions as introduced to Turkey by kebab makers in the country’s Southeast. Today’s gourmets have even begun to prefer sour pomegranate syrup as a substitute for soy sauce or balsamic vinegar.

The benefits of the pomegranate have been sufficiently touted in scientific circles, but in my opinion the pomegranate is ‘the caviar of fruits', and it would be a grave injustice not to incorporate this miracle of nature into other concoctions as well.


Tarhana Soup with Pomegranate

1 cup pomegranate juice
1 pomegranate, cleaned
1 cup tarhana (dried soup mix made of flour and yoghurt)
1 long green pepper (Turkish ‘Çarliston'), finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Whip the cream in a mixing bowl. Separate the eggs. Divide the sugar in half and mix half with the egg yolks and half with the egg whites in separate bowls. Beat the egg whites with the sugar until they form soft peaks. Then combine all the mixtures and add the pomegranate seeds. Pour into molds as desired. Let stand 8-10 hours in the refrigerator. May be served with raspberry sauce according to taste.

Tandoori Duck with Hummus and Pomegranate

1 whole duck
300 gr chickpeas
1 cup tahina
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tsp green pistachios
1/4 tsp cumin
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 pomegranate, cleaned
1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic

For the Hummus:
Soak the chickpeas overnight. Rinse well and place in a pot with water to cover and cook until soft. Skim off the foam. When the chickpeas are cooked, remove the skins and whirl to a puree in a blender. In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked chickpeas with the tahina, lemon juice, cumin, salt, pepper and olive oil to a runny consistency. Heat in a skillet and pour into a serving dish. Brown the nuts in butter and sprinkle over the hummus. Tear the duck meat into pieces and arrange over the hummus. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds. Pour the duck juice over the top and serve.

Clean the duck well. Then rub with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Add the finely chopped carrot, onion and garlic and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 170 C. for about 40 minutes. When baked, remove the meat from the bone.

Chicken with Pomegranate

2 chicken breasts
3 pomegranates, cleaned
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup chicken stock
2 sticks of cinnamon
4 tbsp walnut meats
1 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Brown the chicken in oil or in the oven for ten minutes and set aside. In a pot, combine the chicken stock and pomegranate juice and bring to a boil. Tie the seeds of the cleaned pomegranate up in a piece of cheesecloth and place in the boiling mixture together with stick cinnamon, walnut meats, salt and pepper, and boil 4-5 minutes. Add the browned chicken breasts to this mixture and cook over a low fire for 8-10 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, slice it and arrange the slices on top of a bed of plain rice pilaff on a serving platter. Remove the pomegranate seeds from the cheesecloth bag and sprinkle over the chicken and rice, and serve.

Stewed Pomegranates

500 gr granulated sugar
1 kg water
5 pomegranates, cleaned
4 cloves

Boil the water with the sugar and cloves. Add the pomegranate seeds and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the fire and let cool. Serve cold.

Pomegranate Parfait

1 kg whipping cream
10 eggs
500 gr granulated sugar
4 pomegranates, cleaned

Whip the cream in a mixing bowl. Separate the eggs. Divide the sugar in half and mix half with the egg yolks and half with the egg whites in separate bowls. Beat the egg whites with the sugar until they form soft peaks. Then combine all the mixtures and add the pomegranate seeds. Pour into molds as desired. Let stand 8-10 hours in the refrigerator. May be served with raspberry sauce according to taste.

Milk Pudding with Pomegranate

1 kg milk
200 gr granulated sugar
200 gr cornstarch
4 pomegranates, cleaned
10 gr vanilla

Boil the milk and sugar in a pot and add the seeds of the cleaned pomegranate. Dissolve the cornstarch in water and add slowly to the milk pudding. Bring to a boil, then pour into serving dishes. When cold, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and serve.