Everybody’s pro-pomegranate these days because of the fruit’s recently discovered antioxidant properties. In the ensuing po-juice craze, you could almost forget that for a long time Americans thought of pomegranate as a winter treat for kids, similar to the season’s easy-peeling tangerines.
The bright, translucent red seeds do have a perennial beauty, which grownups appreciate too. They’re like tiny rubies containing a bit of sweet-tart juice, and this probably has a lot to do with the way avant-garde chefs in recent years have taken to sprinkling them around. But in the part of the world where the pomegranate originated, people have long thought of the fruit as a full-fledged ingredient in dishes, not merely an accent. Persian cooks discovered pomegranate’s affinity with walnuts at least 1,000 years ago. In cookbooks from medieval Baghdad, several dishes are based on combining pomegranate and walnuts.
Possibly the harmony has to do with the faint note of bitterness in the pomegranate’s flavor, which goes well with a similar note in walnut. Maybe the same is true of the Uzbek combination of pomegranate and raw onions, which have their own edginess.
Onions and pomegranate — it’s a diabolically simple idea for salad. It’s terrific, too — remarkably delicate and satisfying. In Uzbekistan, it’s a common side dish for the meaty local pilafs. It also goes with the Uzbek version of shish kebab (barra kabob), for which the meat is marinated with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, minced onions and a little vinegar.
Anor va Piyoz Salati
Here’s the onion and pomegranate salad recipe, which tones down the rank qualities of the onion by slicing it thin and rinsing it. Try it while fresh pomegranates are in season. Serves 6-8.
- Slice the onions as thinly as possible. Rinse the slices in the water, separating them into rings. Drain thoroughly.
- With a sharp (preferably serrated) knife, cut the pomegranates in half. Slice one of the halves into quarters and put them in a bowl of water, where you can fold the peel backward, freeing the pomegranate seeds. (Some white debris will float to the surface.) Remove and drain the seeds.
- Squeeze the juice from the remaining 1½ pomegranates. Put the onion rings in a mixing bowl and toss with the juice. To serve, sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds.
Because one does not live on pomegranate-onion salad alone, here’s a typically hearty Uzbek pilaf.
Make sure the meat is fried good and brown. In Uzbekistan, they always throw in a handful of tart dried barberries (zirk), which they class as a spice. If you can’t get barberries (called zereshk in Persian markets), substitute dried cranberries. Serves 6-8.
2 cups rice
¼ cup oil
5 onions, sliced and separated into rings
1 pound stew meat, lamb or beef, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch julienne sticks 2 inches long
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ – ⅓ cup barberries or dried cranberries
Salt and black or red pepper to taste
- Rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until the water remains fairly clear, 5 or 6 changes of water, in order to remove the surface starch. Drain.
- Put the oil in a 4-quart casserole and fry the onions until golden. Remove and drain off oil.
- Fry the meat until the pieces are stiffened and quite brown. Remove from the casserole and drain. Wipe the oil from the casserole and remove any burnt bits with a spoon.
- Add ½ cup of water to the casserole and stir over medium heat to deglaze. Return the meat and onions to the casserole along with the carrots. Add water to cover, plus the cumin, berries, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at 1½ hours.
- Sprinkle the rinsed rice over the stew and add 4 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is done and nearly all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
- Take a pair of ladles and scoop the rice into a mound in the center of the casserole. Poke 2-3 vent holes in the rice down to the bottom of the pot, using the handle of a wooden spoon. Place a dish towel over the top of the pot, set the lid on top of that and simmer 30 minutes. (If you have a gas range, remember to fold the ends of the towel over the lid so it doesn’t accidentally catch fire. This is the voice of experience speaking.)
- Scoop the rice into the middle of a serving dish and arrange the meat, onions and carrots around it.
Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock ‘n’ roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times’ award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.