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KT. Achaya, in his book Indian Food: A Historical Companion, lists pomegranate as one of the fruits identified at the site of Harappa from 2000 BC, as evident in the ornamental clay representations from this era. In the section on “Early fruits", it is mentioned that dhadima was the Sanskrit name for this fruit, from an earlier Munda origin. The Tamil name for the fruit is maadhulampazham, which is said to be a beautiful metaphor for a woman’s mind—maadhu (woman), ullam (mind), pazham (fruit), indicating that the seeds of the pomegranate are hidden in the way the mind of a woman is not easy to decipher.

Pomegranate, the fruit full of seeds, is seen as a symbol of fertility and fecundity in Chinese culture. Similarly, in Armenia, the fruit stands for fertility, marriage and abundance. A popular wedding custom in ancient Armenia involved the bride throwing a pomegranate on a wall to break it open and scatter the seeds, symbolizing the many children she would have during the course of her married life.

Pomegranate juice is quick to stain clothes and surfaces. Throwing it on the wall, therefore, may not be the best way to deseed it. Years ago, I came across Nigella Lawson’s unique technique of tapping the halved fruit with a spatula to release all the seeds into a bowl. While it sounded like fun, in practice, it led to many of the arils getting bruised and the juice splattering on the countertop. Slicing off the top to expose the segments, slicing the fruit into quarters and pulling them apart to gently release the seeds is the method that works best for me.

Pomegranate is said to have its origins in the stretch from Iran to the Himalaya in north India. Today, India is the world’s largest producer of pomegranates, followed by Iran. Pomegranate molasses is a syrup obtained by simmering pomegranate juice with sugar and lemon juice. According to some sources, the whole pomegranate is juiced for this purpose, while others say it is just the juice from the arils. To make pomegranate juice at home, place seeds in a blender and use the pulse function instead of grinding it to a puree, for the bitter-astringent taste of the seeds would make the juice somewhat unpalatable. Pass this through a muslin cloth and squeeze gently into a bowl. Pomegranate molasses is a common ingredient in Persian, Turkish, Arabic and Azerbaijani cuisine. One of the most popular Persian dishes, fesenjān, is a chicken stew prepared with pomegranate molasses and walnuts.

Pomegranate peels have nearly 30% tannins, which are used to dye wool and carpets in Iran. It is also used in tanning leather. To follow the zero-waste policy, save the peels either by sun-drying or freezing. The next time you make chhole, add a couple of pieces of the peel to the pressure cooker along with the water. This lends a rich dark brown colour to the chana (chickpeas).

Yet another way pomegranate finds its way into our cuisine is in the form of a spice. How can a sweet fruit be used as a spice, you may wonder. The arils with the pulp intact are sun-dried or dehydrated until they shrivel. The tart flavours get concentrated in the dried seeds and it can be used as a souring agent like amchoor (mango powder) or sumac. Look for the packaging date when you buy anardana. Even though it is a dried product, it tends to lose its flavour when stored for a very long time. Anardana can be crushed coarsely and added to curries. It is also available in powder form.

The vibrant red colour of pomegranate comes from a pigment called anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. These flavonoids are also said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. The colour and sweetness of juicy pomegranate arils are best highlighted in salads, such as the Mediterranean tabbouleh-inspired salad recipe given here. Pomegranate raita is one of the best accompaniments to a spicy Indian meal. Addition of basil gives the raita flecks of contrasting green colour as well as a unique flavour.

POMEGRANATE MILLET SALAD

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup foxtail millet*, cooked

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped

1 medium tomato

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tbsp lime juice

Salt to taste

Method

In a bowl, gently combine cooked millet, pomegranate and chopped mint leaves.

Deseed and finely chop the tomato. Combine it with the other ingredients in the bowl along with extra virgin olive oil, lime juice and salt.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. The juices released from the tomato get absorbed by the millets, adding more flavour to the salad. Serve chilled.

*Ensure the millet grains are not cooked to a mush and the grains are separate. Cooked broken wheat (dalia) or quinoa can be used in place of millet.

Pomegranate and basil ‘raita’.
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Pomegranate and basil ‘raita’. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

POMEGRANATE AND BASIL RAITA

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

11/2 cups curd

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

10-12 Italian basil leaves, finely chopped

1/2 tsp cumin powder, roasted

A pinch of red chilli powder

Method

Whisk the curd well with salt. Stir in pomegranate arils, reserving a few for garnish. Chop basil finely and mix it into the curd.

Combine the ingredients and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle roasted cumin powder and red chilli powder over the raita. Garnish with reserved pomegranate.

Serve with pulao or as an accompaniment to an Indian meal.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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