I have had my eye on this soup for a long time, maybe years; it is the surplus of sweet (really sweet) and juicy pomegranates all over the city that was my final impetus to action.
What a discovery! This soup is probably off the charts as far as healthy ingredients, from legumes, to rice, to herbs, to pomegranate juice, to turmeric. I checked several recipes, since it is apparently popular in many areas from Northern Iran to the Caucasus and with people as diverse as Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Persians of course, and even Russians.
I stayed close to Najmieh Batmanglij’s version, even though it is the longest. Another version by Arto Der Haroutunian only uses spinach and rice, and no meat, so it can be totally vegetarian as well.
I used red lentils instead of split yellow peas, because they are easy to find in any corner store here in Beirut. I tried it once with lamb shanks and once with ground meat and the lamb shanks gives the heartiest flavor.
I used lots of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, very sweet this year, and some pomegranate molasses (in Lebanon, it is made with the sour pomegranates), in order to obtain that sweet and sour flavor contrast.
All in all, it is a soup I will make every year from now on. The layers of flavors are just addictive and encapsulate the exotic Middle East.
One word of caution: If you are not the adventurous type, you should probably skip it!
Pomegranate soup (Ashe-e-anar)
1/3 cup oil
3 large onions, chop 2 onions, slice one to use as garnish
1 tbsp garlic mashed
salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cups each chopped parsley, cilantro, scallions
1 cup chopped mint
1 beet, peeled and chopped (I skipped it)
1 cup red lentils (recipe calls for 1/2 cup yellow split peas)
1 cup rice ( I used Egyptian medium-grain, but Basmati-type rice is probably more authentic)
1 lb lamb shanks (recipe calls for ground beef or lamb or veal, made into meatballs with some onion and salt and pepper)
4 cups pomegranate juice (fresh and sweet is recommended)
OR 2/3 cups pomegranate molasses
1/3 cup sugar (did not use any, my pomegranates were very sweet)
2 tbsp angelica seeds (gol-par), I skipped, not easily found in the country
1. Heat the oil and fry the chopped onions till almost caramelized; add the garlic and turmeric and meat; stir-fry for a few minutes then add about 2 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and let it bubble-up gently till the meat is completely cooked and tender, about one hour or longer.
2. Add the rice and lentils, simmer for 25 minutes; add the herbs and pomegranate juice (or molasses or both) and simmer for another 25 minutes. The taste should be sweet and sour. Adjust according to your liking, adding more sugar or none. If using ground meat or meatballs, these can be added with the rice and lentils, as they take less time to cook.
3. Serve with a garnish of fresh herbs, pomegranate arils, and caramelized sliced onions if you like (my version) or by heating the garnish as in Mrs. Batmanglij's instructions at the last minute.
Recipe also calls for a garnish, which I skipped, made of 2 Tbsp oil, 5 cloves garlic, 1 tsp dry mint, 1/2 tsp turmeric. Heat the oil, add the garlic and spices and drizzle over the soup right before serving.
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