Pomegranate seeds have always looked, to my loving eye, like beautiful cabochon-cut rubies. Their domed tops seem to sparkle in the light and similar to the gemstone, the finest tasting pomegranate seeds have a pure, vibrant red colour.
In Turkey pomegranates are called nar and their trees produce fiery orange blossoms in late spring and tiny, burnt-orange fruits which weigh down the branches as they ripen into red-skinned juicy pomegranates, ready to be harvested in the autumn.
Vendors in the narrow, winding lanes of Sultanahmet, the old city and heart and soul of Istanbul, stand behind small tables piled high with ruby-red pomegranates, strong arms ready to push down on the handle of a manual press and squeeze the tiny rubies inside into ambrosial cups of juice. On a hot day, it’s hard to imagine that anything else can be more refreshing.
You can drink its nectar, but how do you eat pomegranate?
- Different varieties vary in flavour between sour, sour-sweet, and sweet, but most pomegranates strike a fine balance between the two extremes. Hicaznar is one of the most popular Turkish varieties, with intense red seeds (which are technically called arils) and a sour-sweet taste.
- If you don’t want your kitchen to look like a crime scene, don’t cut directly through a pomegranate. Instead, slice off enough of the blossom end to show the seeds underneath, score the skin into several sections, and gently break it apart.
- There is no magic trick that will separate the seeds from the membrane for you so prepare yourself for sticky fingers as you work them loose. If you’re impatient, a few might rupture along the way, so this is a good time to inform you that pomegranate juice stains.
- The seeds are great when eaten raw – there is something very intoxicating about the explosion of flavour they release when they burst in your mouth – but don’t be afraid to experiment.
- In Turkish cuisine, pomegranate molasses is used as a salad dressing, to marinate meat, and to make acuka, a spread of peppers, ground walnuts, garlic, and olive oil. Güllaç is a traditional Turkish dessert made with milk, walnuts, pastry, and pomegranate seeds.
- You can incorporate pomegranate into your own dishes by scattering the tiny rubies on salad, serving them with tajines and roasted meats, or to balance a sweet dessert with a tart taste.
Pomegranate molasses and juice also make for some interesting and amazing cocktails. Champagne, bourbon, tequila, vodka; the combinations are limitless and loving pomegranate is the only excuse you need to try them all.