Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka
The pomegranate is an alluring beast. Round and circular with an inviting, puckered top, it has been a symbol of sexuality and lust throughout the years in art and literature. Pomegranates are central to Palestinian cooking, both as a magnificent fruit which demands recognition and as a sweetener (molasses).
On a shopping trip to Cowley Road’s many international supermarkets, I once picked up two pomegranates. They were wonderful globes of pink, the size of a mini football, and bursting with flavour. At £1.50 each, they were also a bargain. Fruit is so expensive, but pomegranates from a good supplier are often reasonably-priced. I would recommend purchasing yours from an international supermarket, as the ones in Tesco, for example, are generally small and watery, failing to fulfil the pomegranate’s promise. The same can be said for the already-deseeded packages which are often days old and dehydrated. At their best, pomegranate seeds should be bold, bright, and bursting with flavour; supermarket pots cannot match the real thing.
However, pomegranates are an investment, as deseeding is often a time-consuming and messy process. When I deseeded my two pomegranates, my college kitchen did not escape unscathed. Magenta juice sprayed everywhere, so much so that the formerly white kettle resembled more of a Jackson Pollock painting. The difficulty in deseeding pomegranates comes in attempting to avoid the sour yellow flesh that houses the seeds. But the process does not have to be perfectly precise — a small amount of the yellow outer flesh will not affect the overall flavour of the fruit, but avoiding large chunks is imperative.
From my two pomegranates, after around 20 minutes of work, I had a decent Tupperware’s worth of fruit. These were real pomegranate seeds. Tear-drop shaped, glassy, and luscious. I had my first taste this morning: my usual porridge oats mixed with soya yoghurt and loads of pomegranate seeds. It was joyous: the fresh seeds bursting with juice, sweetening the smooth yoghurt and crunchy oats. Watching the sun streak through the clouds while people rush to work, it was a glorious breakfast.
My love of pomegranates is evident. I have both outlined their simple use in porridge, and their joy as a fruit. But, pomegranates also form the backbone for much of Palestinian savoury cooking: as a topping for baba ganoush, drizzled over manakeesh, or even as a dressing for a simple chopped salad. Pomegranate molasses offer tart contrast to the warm, earthy flavours of burnt aubergine or stewed spinach, combining to produce a wondrous effect.
My Tata (Arabic for Grandmother) is Palestinian, and I spent much of my childhood in her kitchen, watching her cook. Soaking chickpeas was a regular occurrence; mint and parsley were always growing in small pots on the window-sill. I do feel lucky to have grown up amongst fresh fruit and wonky vegetables. Local produce is always the centrepiece of a Palestinian meal, and in moving from Bethlehem to Nottingham, Tata has had to adapt. But, the pomegranate remains a vital part of her culinary repertoire, which has been passed down to me.
Pomegranates are brilliant and, if properly sourced and cared for, hugely rewarding. I implore you to make the journey and commit the time. I promise you won’t be disappointed.