Pomegranates

Pomegranates are one of the new “super foods” thriving in the culinary market. Full of antioxidants that slow down aging and other minerals that help protect against heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and cancer, pomegranates are a healthy fruit that can be incorporated into diet through a variety of means. The power fruit is used in many different aspects of Azerbaijani cuisine, especially as a sauce accompaniment to pilafs, kabobs, and seafoods. Pomegranate juice is also quite popular.

Possessing over 100 different species in Azerbaijan, pomegranates are one of the leading export commodities from the country. Pomegranates are actually considered to be the national fruit of Azerbaijan, attesting to its place as one of the oldest and most beloved fruits. Looking back in history, pomegranates have been growing in Azerbaijan for over 40 centuries, back to Karabakh antiquity. The fruit also was showcased in Greek mythology over 3,000 years ago. In ancient times, the fruit originated in Eastern Iran and travelled across Azerbaijan and over to the Mediterranean. Pomegranates symbolized abundance, fertility, and good luck. They are mentioned twice in the Qur’an as examples of good things God creates and are listed as one of the fruits growing in paradise. Clearly, the fruit held an important place in ancient times, just like it still does today.

In Azerbaijan, the beloved fruit is celebrated every year during the Pomegranate Festival. The festival is held the first week of November in Goychay, Azerbaijan. Proceedings include a parade containing traditional Azerbaijani music and dances, as well as contests. One of the contests is a pomegranate eating contest, which can be very challenging because contestants are disqualified if a single seed hits the table. While the festival features anything related to Azerbaijani fruit-cuisine, the pomegranate remains at the heart of the festival throughout the week.

Some people are discouraged from eating the fruit due to the tricky nature of extracting the seeds. According to Azeri experts, the best way to serve a pomegranate is to slice off the top portion with the stem (approximately 1/2 inch from the top). Then, make incisions along the 3 or 4 white compartments on the inside, and pry the seeds (which are the only edible portion) out with a spoon and/or pairing knife.

Now that you have mastered extracting pomegranate seeds, we suggest that you try the following pomegranate sauce recipe as an accompaniment to your next meal. It would be exceptionally excellent with the kabobs discussed on August 29th.

Pomegranate Sauce/Nasharab/ Narşərab

Ingredients:

8 ounces pomegranate seeds

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

1) Place pomegranate seeds and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan.

2) Boil, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes, over high heat. Strain seeds from liquid.

3) Mash the seeds forcefully, extract the juice, reserve it, and discard the seeds.

4) Place the juice in the medium saucepan with the sugar.

5) Bring to a boil over high heat.

6) Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, until thick.

Post Written by Athena Smith, Karabakh Foundation Cultural Affairs Coordinator

With the Assistance of Amy Riolo, Author of The Cuisine of Karabakh

All content contained in the post is from The Cuisine of Karabakh and is therefore protected by copyright. Please cite references as: Riolo, Amy. The Cuisine of Karabakh: Recipes, Memories, and Dining Traditions from Azerbaijan’s Cradle of Culture. Karabakh Foundation: 2011.

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