My husband Ted laughs whenever I come home from the store with a bottle of wine. I'm not much of a drinker, so I shop for wine by the label — not the brand, but the actual label. I can't resist pretty pictures, great graphics, good colors, and clever names like Goats Do Roam.
I shop in ethnic markets the same way. Every now and then I'll have a particular recipe in mind, but more often I wander through the store, filling my basket with things that look interesting. That's how I discovered pomegranate molasses several years ago, in the Syrian Grocery in my old neighborhood in Boston. (Isn't the label beautiful?)
Pomegranate molasses, also called pomegranate syrup, is a traditional Middle Eastern condiment made from the sugar in the juice extracted from fresh pomegranates. Though the fruit is native to Iran, most pomegranate molasses are bottled in Lebanon. Thick and syrupy in texture, pomegranate molasses provides a sharp, tangy, yet slightly sweet flavor to savory dishes like muhammara and braised beef short ribs. It is traditionally used to flavor chutneys, curries, salad dressings, sauces, and marinades and glazes for meats. A drizzle over creamy vanilla ice cream makes a lovely dessert, too.
If you can't find pomegranate molasses in your market, you can purchase it online. It's easy to make your own, too, from pomegranate juice (Pom and RW Knudsen are both available in my local supermarket); boil 4 cups of juice down to make 1/2 cup of syrup.
A few Thanksgivings ago, I made what's come to be known in our house as the turkey football — a boneless turkey breast, stuffed with couscous and dried fruit, tied into a cylinder, and laquered to a deep mahogany from frequent bastings of pomegranate molasses mixed with orange juice and honey. It was a thing of beauty, and it tasted a hundred times better than most of the wines I buy for Ted.
Adapted from A Taste of Persia, by Najmieh K. Batmanglij. Serves 4.
4 fillets of sea bass or trout, approx. 2 lbs
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp vegetable oil, butter or ghee
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp candied orange peel
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp sugar or honey
1/2 tsp saffron threads, dissolved in 2 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Wash the fish, pat it dry, and rub both sides with the salt. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a skillet, heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and fry 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the pepper, walnuts, candied orange peel, pomegranate molasses and sugar; stir-fry for 3 minutes and remove from heat.
Place fish in a greased baking dish. Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each fillet, roll the fillet up, and pin it shut with skewers. Pour the saffron water and lime juice over the fish and dot the fish with the remaining 2 Tbsp oil.
Place fish in the oven and bake for 10--15 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork, basting from time to time. Arrange the fish on a serving platter. Pour the sauce from the baking dish over the fish, and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds. Serve with saffron steamed rice.
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