‘In these all-white courtyards where the south wind blows whistling through vaulted arcades, tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree that leaps in the light scattering its fruitful laughter with windy wilfulness and whispering? Tell me, is it the mad pomegranate tree that quivers with foliage newly born at dawn raising high its colours in a shiver of triumph?’ – Odysseus Elytis. I first read this poem sitting under a pomegranate tree – a very sane looking one I may add – in the gardens of Andromeda in Jaffa (from where this recipe emanates); it described perfectly what I could see and how I felt that day. Free and triumphant. That evening, with my friend Anat, we sipped wine and shared news as we simmered down pomegranate arils to make a smooth sticky molasses. Back then I considered this practice to be very exotic but now pomegranates, along with lemons, are the enduring stars of my Mediterranean kitchen. This delightfully tangy stew of pomegranate molasses, lentils and aubergines is a highly revered Palestinian classic; just one taste and you will see why. It literally lights up the winter months and takes me right back to that tree and the exotic, vibrant shores of the Levant.
250g dark speckled lentils, thoroughly rinsed
2-3tsp ground cumin
1 aubergine, cubed into small pieces
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sumac
50ml olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
150ml pomegranate molasses
1-2 lemons, juiced
Flat leaf parsley, chopped, to garnish
Pomegranate arils, to garnish
How I make it
In a large pan, add the lentils, cumin and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes then add the aubergine, salt and sumac. Add just enough hot water to cover the contents of the pan, partially cover with a lid and continue to simmer for a further 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small pan, fry the garlic in the olive oil until golden and set aside.
When the aubergine mixture is cooked, add the garlic and stir in the pomegranate molasses. Cook for a further five minutes. Add the lemon juice, garnish and serve with crusty bread; my Palestinian halloumi and za’atar manaeesh would work perfectly.