As winter rolls in, the main place that has brought me a great deal of solace, is the kitchen. It is the place where I can continue to be creative, indulging in tastes and ingredients that I know will not only serve my immune system and but engage my spirits. A good bowl of soup will forever be the dish, that will always bring my body and soul the utmost comfort. I have a particular fondness for Ash-e Anar (Pomegranate Soup), as it is one of my favorite dishes of all time. Persian food is vibrantly colored and has many layers of flavor. The cuisine makes use of a lot of different spices, herbs and fruits (both dried and fresh) including dates, cherries, persimmons, raisins, quince, prunes and plums. The pomegranate is also used widely in Persian cuisine for different types dishes such as Khoresht Fesenjaan (Pomegranate and Walnut Stew).
Ash-e Anar brings together garlic, onion, yellow split peas, beets, pomegranates, pomegranate molasses, oil, herbs, spices and for those meat eaters ground meat (in my house we use ground turkey). It is not only hearty but very warming. The flavors are of sweetness and sour all in one bite. It’s not only beautiful to see but divinely delicious to taste.
All ingredients combined make for an extremely healthy soup. On its own, the innumerable offerings of the pomegranate include vitamins A, C, E and folic acid. It is best known for its benefits related to promoting heart health, dental care, and blood circulation. It also combats digestive problems, anemia, cancer, and diabetes.
Making this soup can be somewhat labor intensive, but like many other soups, the divine taste is worth all the effort.
What you will need:
A pot ( I prefer cast iron pots, but I find stainless steel works well too).
A strainer to clean rice and to clean the split peas.
A chopper or a very good vegetable chopping knife.
A glass bowl to mix ingredients for the meat.
3 onions (2 chopped) (1 grated and left to the side)
6 cloves of garlic ( depending on how much garlic you like – add more or less)
1/2 cup yellow split peas
2 cups chopped fresh parsley (or 1/2 cup dried)
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro (or 1/2 cup dried)
1 cup chopped fresh mint (or 1/4 cup dried)
2 cups chopped fresh chives/scallions/leeks (or 1/2 cup dried)
1 cup chopped fresh spinach (or 1 cup frozen)
2 medium beets, peeled and cubed (depending on how much you like beets – add more or less)
1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb)
1 cup dry rice (white or brown)
2/3 cups pomegranate paste diluted in 2 cups of water or 4 cups pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons angelica seeds or powder (available at specialty stores)
1 teaspoon Turmeric
1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
10-12 cups water
Pomegranate seeds (if in season)
Fresh Chopped Herbs (cilantro, mint, chives).
Saute the 3 chopped onions and garlic with olive oil, a teaspoon of turmeric, as well as salt and pepper( to your liking).
Add 10 cups of water and yellow split peas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
Add all the chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint and chives), the cubed beets and continue to cook for 20 more minutes. Make sure heat is not too high. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking to the pot.
In a separate bowl prepare your meat. Add the extra grated onion to the meat with some salt and pepper(to your liking). I usually add an extra clove or two of minced garlic as well.Mix the ingredients well and make chestnut-sized meatballs. Add the meatballs, one by one to the pot.
(It is important to check on the split peas before taking the step. Often if the peas haven’t cooked properly it is best to let them cook longer as adding rice deters the cooking of the split peas). Add rice and cook for 30 minutes longer.
Stir in the pomegranate paste, angelica powder and simmer over LOW HEAT for 30 minutes. (If you find that the taste is too sour, it is possible to ration in some sugar or honey- although I usually like the sour).
Check the meatball and peas to make sure they are cooked. You can adjust the flavor of the seasoning. The taste should be sweet and sour.
I usually add the fresh spinach last since I don’t like for spinach to overcook and lose its nutrients. You can also add frozen spinach. Spinach doesn’t need more than a couple minutes.
Add water if the soup is too thick.
When serving one can garnish the top with fresh pomegranate seeds and the chopped fresh herbs.
Soup Serving 6 -8
** Soup tastes equally as good if not better, a day later. If you are going to use pomegranate juice, it is probably less likely you will need to add extra water.