Καλή Χρονιά! Happy New Year! Just step over the smashed pomegranate on the stoop on your way into my kitchen. Messy, I know, but it’s there for a reason. I’ll explain, but a little background information is required first. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, I’ll begin at the beginning and go on until I come to the end. Perhaps, by the end, the smashed pomegranate will make sense.
There is a British superstition that your Christmas tree must taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) and one of the ornaments I’ve taken down and packed away is a hammered brass pomegranate made by the mother of a Greek friend of mine. All during the Christmas holiday, as it hangs on the tree, it is a constant reminder of a particular Greek New Year’s custom – one I thought to emulate this year. On the stroke of midnight, on the eve of January 1st, the family assembles outside and smashes a pomegranate at the entrance to the house, like many Greek households across the globe. The scattered seeds symbolize prosperity and good luck – the more seeds the more luck. Although this custom probably has links to ancient Greek myth, the symbolism of the pomegranate as prosperity is widespread and crops up in many cultures through the ages. So…reading the evidence of the pomegranate’s entrails on my kitchen stoop, it looks like a prosperous year, although this method of telling the future is about as accurate as tasseography or scrying with a crystal ball.
Vasilopita or Ayios Vasileios (Saint Basil) bread is another Greek custom I follow for the New Year. Ever since making this under the tutelage of my Greek friend years ago, I’ve made loaves of vasilopita. The recipe I use is an Istanbul Greek version of the holiday bread using mastic – the aromatic resin from the Pistacia lentiscus tree from the island of Chios – and mahlepi (Turkish, mahlab) – the kernels of the Prunus mahaleb or St. Lucie cherry. You can read about it in my post, Bread for Saint Basil. No pomegranates involved, however!
Over the past month, I started collecting a few links for pomegranate basics from blogs I follow. Very useful, since, as you can see from the photo above, I had plenty of pomegranates and was nearly out of pomegranate molasses. I thought I’d try my hand at making it from scratch – from fruit to syrup. It worked very well and I now have a new stock of lovely pomegranate molasses, slightly more fruity than the store bought variety.
→ How to get seeds (arils) out of a pomegranate
→ Fresh Pomegranate Juice
→ Melassa di Melograno (Pomegranate Molasses)
One of my favorite ways of using pomegranate molasses is drizzled on a Spicy Lamb Pizza. This type of spiced meat flatbread can be found throughout the Middle East – lahmacun (Turkish), lahmahjoon (Armenian), lahm bi ajine (Lebanese). I make the dough using a Turkish pide recipe from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s beautiful cookbook, Turquiose, a book detailing – in spectacular photographs, recipes and stories – their culinary journey through the different provinces of Turkey. I modify the recipe slightly by throwing a handful of nigella seeds into the dough. The meat mixture is simply:
- 1 lb. lean ground lamb
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 finely chopped shallots
- 5 plum tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped
The mixture is spread very thinly on the rolled and stretched dough and baked for ten to fifteen minutes at a high temperature (about 425 degrees F.). While it is still warm, the flatbreads are scattered with fresh coriander, pomegranate seeds and drizzles of pomegranate molasses. Yummy!
Lately, I’ve been seeing pomegranates everywhere. A package of natural cleaning products arrived a little while ago that included a free trial of cleaning wipes infused with pomegranate and lime. Just the thing I needed to clean up the smashed pomegranate on the stoop!