Homemade Middle Eastern Pomegranate Molasses
Apart from being defined by discernible differences in taste and textures, many cuisines are also distinguishable by looking into the ingredients and condiments used in their recipes. Miso is uniquely Japanese just as one would associate oyster sauce with Chinese cooking. Mention fish sauce and one immediately relates it to Thai and Indochinese cuisines. Middle Eastern cuisines, be it Arabian, Jewish, Turkish or Persian also have their own special range of ingredients. Turkish apricots and figs, Iranian pistachios, rose water, sumac etc… are just some of the things that reminds me of this group of cuisines which have influenced the structuring and development of one another for centuries. And just as with the sauces and pastes I’d mentioned earlier, Middle Eastern cuisines too have their own unique concoctions adopted to boost the rich and piquant flavours many dishes from this region are well-known for. Pomegranate molasses must surely be one of them.
Dibs Rumman is the Arabic name for pomegranate molasses. Used extensively in Middle Eastern as well as Mediterranean cooking, it is otherwise known as nar ekşisi in Turkish and moving northwards it can also be found in traditional recipes where it is known as narşərab/nasrahab in the Azerbaijani or Georgian native tongues. In the Middle East, it is quintessential for classic dishes like Khoresh-e Fesenjan/Fesenjoon, a Persian chicken and walnut stew, in Turkish pilaf which is a popular Middle Eastern rice dish, in Fattoush as a dressing for this Lebanese salad, or into the marinade of a popular Armenian meatball dish Kafta. In Mediterranean cooking, it manifests as one of the key ingredients Muhammara/Mouhamara, a traditional Mediterranean dip made from hot and sweet red peppers, walnuts, and pomegranates.
Its sweet and sharp qualities likens balsamic vinegar, yet is much fruitier and more robust. So a little of it goes a long way, adding depth and richness to meat, fish, vegetable dishes. It is a versatile condiment that can substitute vinegar, honey and in some cases lemon juice in salad dressings as well as in marinades, rubs, or glazes. Being both sugary and tart at the same time allows it to be used in both savory dishes as well as sweet desserts, going well as a topping drizzled onto the popular Jewish rice pudding called Malabi, which is also known as Mahallabīya in the other Arabic-speaking communities from the region.
The name “pomegranate molasses” is actually much of a misnomer as it is actually more of a thickened syrup in actuality. I’m not sure if we could find pomegranate molasses here in Singapore but I wasn’t about to go out to hunt for a bottle as it is very easy to make at home, especially when good pomegranates are available. The ones I’d bought from the local supermarket looked very promising, very sizeable and generously packed with little morsels bursting their sanguine juice. True enough, they tasted great on their own so I’m pretty sure they would do well for making a portion of molasses to “feed” my Middle Eastern dishes to come.
What is the best way to get these little rubies out of the fruits? Well, I’m not about to do what Nigella advocates, that is to whack the halved fruits with a wooden spatula. That would only make me lose those precious juices necessarily. It turns out that removing the seeds isn’t a difficult thing to do at all. Simply cut the fruit into half and slowly use your bare hands to break off smaller chunks of it and work gently to get the seed sacs out. The next tricky bit is to extract the juice from the seeds. My old garlic press was perfect for the task, squeezing out every drop of juice leaving behind the seeds and the membranes slowly, but surely. After that it was just a matter of heating the pomegranate juice with some lemon juice and sugar and the homemade pomegranate moulasses is done!
Homemade Middle Eastern Pomegranate Moulasses (makes 1 ½ cups)
4 cups of pomegranate juice (extracted from 4 large pomegranates, each 450-500g)
½ cup sugar (appro.)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from one small lemon)
Pour all the ingredients into a small saucepot and bring to a rapid boil.
Lower flame and allow the concoction to simmer and excess moisture to vaporise until it is about 1 ½ cups worth left. The process takes approximately 40-50 min for me and at the end of it, the mixture would start to froth and bubble incessantly.
Turn off flame and allow mixture to cool down considerably.
Pour handmade pomegranate molasses into an air-tight bottle. Cover with lid only when mixture has completely cooled down to room temperature.
Use as required in Middles Eastern dishes and adjust flavours with more sugar or lemon juice to personal taste.