It’s been getting colder recently, so it was a pleasent surprise that yesterday was a little warmer than we have come to expect. Rather than chowing down on soups, stews and bakes, I made this salad as a final salute to the summer that we will soon be leaving behind. My inspiration was that finally, finally, pomegranates have appeared back in the fruit section of the local Turkish shop. I just had to buy them. I mean, they look so pretty. A pain to remove the fleshy seeds, but so pretty!
I learned to make something similar when I attended a course on Lebanese cuisine at the Corden Vert cookery school in London. The theory is simply – take some couscous, and throw in bits of everything that has even the faintest suggesting of the Middle East. And this I did. Fresh flatleaf parsley, unsalted pistachios, cumin seeds, sumac, black onion seeds, toasted pine nuts and, of course, the star – pomegranate.
This might seem like an odd thing to put in a savoury dish, but the fruit lightens up the whole thing, and the tart, sharp juice from the pomegranate explodes in little burst of flavour as you are eating. All this, and they sparkle like little rubies strewn across the salad. For the couscous, I used bulgur wheat, which is much coarser than “normal” couscous. And unlike fine couscous, it doesn’t form into lumps when cooked, and it looks prettier in the finished dish. Eat with your mouth and your eyes!
This was intended to be dinner, end of. Then unknown to me, the number of people at the dinner table started to grow, so I turned this into the centrepiece of a Middle Eastern dinner – grilled halloumi cheese, hummus and burnt aubergine salad. Nothing like cooking under pressure!
To make pomegranate couscous salad (serves 4):
• Seeds of 1 large ripe pomegranate (I use the tedious pick-pick-pick method, or try like this)
• 250g bulgur wheat (or coarse couscous if preferred)
• 1 large onion, cut in half and into thin strips
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
• 1 teaspoon black onion seeds
• 2 generous handfuls flatleaf parsley, chopped
• 1 handful unsalted pistachio nuts, crushed
• 1/2 teaspoon sumac powder
• 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
• salt, to taste
• 1 handful pine nuts, lightly toasted
Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl. Cover with boiling water, and put a pot lid on the bowl. Leave to sit until the bulgur what is soft (around 15 minutes). Add more water if necessary. Once cooked, drain.
In a pan, cook the olive oil, onion, cumin seeds, black onion seeds and a pinch of salt on a high heat. Stir constantly, and cook until the onions are a golden brown colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the couscous, 3/4 of the pomegranate seeds, onions, parsley, pistachio nuts, sumac, chilli powder and salt. Toss gently so the ingredients are combined.
Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with the rest of the pomegranate seeds and the pine nuts. Serve with a lemon-olive oil dressing on the side.
Worth making? Yes! This salad has a real “wow” factor when you bring it to the table, and has a lovely combination of flavours and textures. You can also customise it according to your tastes – different nuts, coriander (cilantro) in place of parsley, grilled halloumi cheese or feta chunks. Let your creativity run wild! Just don’t forget the pomegranate. It really makes all the difference.