Tag Archives: pomegranate

Oh Mon Amour! Bitter and Sweet

It’s that time of year when it is simply de rigueur to think pink. Heart-shaped chocolates, cupcakes, biscuits and desserts about. Heck, even emails at work are festooned with cherubs, hearts and flowers to persuade us that getting on top of our administration is somehow wonderfully romantic (is isn’t).

However, I’ve decided to depart from the usual Valentine treats (i.e. sweet and sugary) and instead to try something a little different. As an antidote to all those chocolates, this is just a simple salad to make us feel healthy during these cold, wintery days. And yes, obviously, it is in part hot pink.

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To make this salad, I’ve used ingredients for both colour as well as flavour. It would be easy just to walk around and throw everything that is red into a bowl and suggest it conveys the essence of romance, but I wanted to be more subtle than that.

Most obviously, I’ve used red endive, which add a rich pink colour, but also have a little bitterness to them. What’s love if not occasionally bitter? Then there are pomegranate seeds and segments of blood oranges. Don’t read too much into the “blood” part, but I wanted some fruit that would add sweetness, the oranges providing some citrussy tang and the pomegranate seeds some crunch. In all honestly, I must say  that I was a little disappointed that these oranges were not, well, more “bloody” when I cut them open, but they did turn out to have very pretty orange and red mottling, which actually looked great on the plate. I also put in some aromatic fennel (I’ve been eating a lot of this recently) as well as some crumbled cheddar. I could say the cheese somehow symbolises strength and smoothness, but the reality is – strong cheddar is just brilliant with fennel, and there’s not too much more to it than that!

I finished this off with a simple dressing of olive oil, honey and red wine vinegar, which again balance sweetness, sharpness and smoothness. Finally, the sauce gets a little kick in terms of flavour and colour by adding some oil from a jar of harissa paste. It ended up more orange than pink or red, but the effect was still great.

So that’s really it! This salad is by turns sweet, bitter and sharp, so it has interesting tastes and textures as well as looking quite stunning. You can, of course, tweak the ingredients depending on what you have to hand and your own preferences, but I think the red quality from the endive and fruit is pretty much essential.

Whatever you have planned for tomorrow – dinner à deux or a fun-filled evening with friends – have fun!

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To make a Bitter and Sweet salad (serves 2, of course)

For the salad:

• 2 red endives
• 2 blood oranges
• 1 small fennel bulb
• 50g cheddar
• 2 handfuls pomegranate seeds

For the dressing:

• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon oil from harissa paste or sun-dried tomato paste (optional)

1. Break the endive into leaves, and cut each one into two lengthways. Peel the orange and cut into segments. Slice the fennel into very thin pieces. Slice the cheese and crumble.

2. Build up the salad on two plates – start with the endives, then the fennel, then the oranges, then cheddar and then scatter over the pomegranate seeds.

3. Make the dressing – whisk everything until smooth, then drizzle over the salad.

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Pistachio and Honey Baklava

At the weekend, there was a very special celebration lunch. It was in honour of one of my friends, who was awarded an OBE, and we were round at her house to enjoy good food and great company. We also got to see the official video of the big day at Buckingham Palace. It was so funny to watch – incredibly grand and exciting, and nice to be able to share in the event.

This is my contribution to the lunch – a tray of pistachio baklava with an aromatic honey syrup.

This is based on my normal nut baklava recipe, but I wanted to make it a little more special. So I made the filling with mostly pistachios, and made the sticky syrup with a good measure of honey. Rather than just using pure honey (which could be somewhat overpowering) I replaced some of the sugar in the syrup with wildflower honey, and it came out just right in terms of the honeyness-to-nutiness ration.

Now, for a fancy event it needed to look fancy too. So I jazzed it up by presenting on my lovely metal Arabian-style plate (a bargain at the St Gilles flea market in Brussels this summer) and scattered the baklava with sliced pistachios and some dried pomegranate. Yes, dried pomegranate. This was news to me! Not something I had ever come across before, but the hostess was using them in another part of the meal, and I thought a few of the sweet-tart seeds would make a nice complement to the sweetness of the honey syrup.

We went hunting for the famed dried pomegranate up and down Stoke Newington High Street, but to no avail. Exhausted from all that pavement pounding, we sound some refreshment at the lovely new coffee house Fred & Fran and got chatting to one of the baristas. We mentioned the dried pomegranate, and he shouted down to the chef – had she heard of it? Nope, news to her too. So we shuffled off, bought a fresh pomegranate, removed the fleshy seeds and ended up drying them in the oven at a very low temperature. Needs must and all that!

So I hope you enjoy this recipe – I can’t really say how authentic it is, but it is very simple to make and it seemed to be pretty popular served with a scoop of milk gelato.

To make pistachio and honey baklava (makes around 24 pieces):

For the sugar syrup:

• 75ml water
• 125g white sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water(*)

In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar, honey and lemon juice until it comes to the boil and cook for a minute. Now add the orange blossom and rose waters, boil for a few seconds, and remove from the heat. Allow to cool before using on the baklava.

For the baklava:

• 150g pistachios
• 50g almonds
• 100g soft light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon rose water(*)
• 12 sheets of filo pastry
• 75g unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Grind the nuts. We want them to be medium-fine – if they are ground too finely, the resulting filling will be very dense. Combine with the sugar and cinnamon, then add the orange blossom and rose waters and mix well. Set aside.

In a dish (I used one 21 x 28cm), brush the base with a little melted butter, then add a sheet of filo. Brush with butter, then add another sheet. Brush with butter, and continue until you have six sheets of filo in the dish. Add the filling, and spread out. Be gentle so you don’t break the pastry. Now add the rest of the pastry, in each case adding a layer, brushing with melted butter, then adding the next. Finish by brushing the sixth sheet with butter.

Cut the baklava into pieces – long rectangles, diamonds, squares, or whatever whimsical shapes take your fancy. Do this carefully with a sharp knife and make sure to go all the way through to the base. You might want to leave a border of “scrap” baklava where the pastry is a bit untidy at the edges. This means the final result is neater, and as the cook, you get to enjoy this “angel’s share”.

Bake the baklava for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden. When done, remove from the oven, allow it to sit for a minute, then pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Be sure to get the syrup in between each cut. If you see syrup forming pools in some areas, don’t worry – it will all be absorbed.

Allow the baklava to cool fully before serving. Decorate with chopped pistachios and dried pomegranate seeds(**).

(*) By this, I mean the lightly aromatic rose water. If you have the much more intense rose extract, then use just a few drops and not a whole tablespoon!

(**) To dry pomegranate seeds – remove the red seeds from the white pith, and spread on a non-stick baking tray. Leave in the oven at 60°C (140°F) for several hours until the seeds are dry. They will remain slightly sticky but should keep their colour and not turn brown.

Worth making? This version of baklava is very fragrant, and there is just enough honey to make this seem like a very decadent treat. It is also very simple to make, and can be prepared ahead of time.

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Pomegranate Couscous Salad

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.

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