Majida Rashid

“It was the nightingale, and not the lark, that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear. Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.”
— Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5, Romeo and Juliet

Pomegranate – the fruit evokes a memory of when I walked into my father’s room, decades ago. It was a rare warm mid-morning of wintery sunshine in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Father was eating a pomegranate and gave me some. But as a four-year-old I smeared it all over myself. So, Father taught me how to peel and eat it without splashing the juice.

He placed a glistening red pomegranate on a white plate and put it on his knees, which were covered with a white towel. Using a small sharp knife, he lightly peeled the red top in a circle revealing the yellow pith underneath. Then he lightly scored the pith with a plus sign and gently ran the tip of the knife from one side of the plus all the way to the other side on the top. He repeated the cut in the opposite direction as well. Lastly, Father put his thumbs in the center on the top and pulled the fruit apart in halves. Ruby red jewel-like seeds glimmered against the honeycomb yellow membrane. Not a drop spilled!

“The trick is to score lightly so the knife doesn’t run through the seeds,” said Father.

That was the start of my love affair with the fruit. I’m not the only one to have been allured by the delicious flavors of pomegranate. It has captured the imagination of people across cultures and religions from antiquity to present day. Romans, Greeks, Persians and Egyptians have used the fruit as a symbol of life, beauty and fertility because of its many seeds and representation of power. It can be found in several coats of arms, including Spain and even the British Royal College of Physicians.

Punica protopunica, the wild variety of pomegranate, is believed to be endemic to Socotra Island, which is 150 miles off the coast of Yemeni. The domesticated variety that we eat today, Punica granatum, is thought to have originated in Persia. In his epic poem Shahnameh, Iranian poet Abdolqasim Ferdowsi tells the story of how the Zoroastrian crown prince Esfandiy?r became invincible after consuming pomegranate.

Iranians still mark Zoroastrian celebrations. To observe Yelda, the winter solstice, which falls on December 22, families adorn their tables with nuts, dried fruit, watermelon and pomegranate. To this day Khroush-e-Fesenjan, a chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce dish, is cooked to welcome loved ones.

Many Iranians grow pomegranate in their backyard or on their property. Yazd, Iran, was the second city where I came across a private pomegranate grove. The Seed and Plant Improvement Institute of Yazd has more than 700 different types of trees, some even from antiquity. Yazdi pomegranates are huge with thin burgundy skin. They are the sweetest and the juiciest I have ever eaten. Though people swear by the sweet soft pink seeds of the green-skinned pomegranate that is indigenous to Saada, Yemen.

From Iran, the pomegranate spread to the middle east, south-east and east Asia, China, Mediterranean and even to the northern belt of Africa. Ottomans took it to Spain. Granada was presumably named after the fruit. The French named their explosive device grenade because it shattered into many tiny pieces like pomegranate seeds. Spanish missionaries took it to south American countries and then it was brought to California in the 18th Century.

Leap frog from antiquity to the first decade of this century and the fruit started appearing in the mainstream supermarkets of America. Scientists and researchers jumped on the band wagon to find out its nutritional benefits. Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Lindsey Lohan and Will Smith incorporated pomegranate into their diet because of its nutritional value. This wonder fruit is packed with phytochemicals, fiber, antioxidants, and Vitamin C among many other nutrients.

Pomegranate size can vary from a small orange to a huge grapefruit. The top of the fruit has a tiny crown called persistent calyx and its smooth exterior or exocarp hides fleshy mesocarp, which holds honey-comb membrane and arils, commonly known as seeds, and the actual seeds that reside inside the arils. The actual seeds can be soft to extremely grainy. One has to spit out the coarse ones after chewing the juice from arils. While the skin color can range from copper, tan, shades of red to green, the seeds, or arils, come in translucent pale pink hues of red and burgundy.
Flavors can be predominately sour or, sweet or any combination of the two. No two pomegranates taste exactly the same. Unlike what I learned growing up, the size and skin color is not a guarantee of any particular flavor. Soil, quantity of water used during irrigation and climate are big influencers of taste.

In Pakistan, the ground dried skin of a pomegranate is used to banish monthly cramps. I never went near them, but now as the foodie that I have become, I blend fresh pomegranate peel with water and drink it every day, starting with a teaspoon at a time. And the cutlets always remind me of my mother.

Potato Cutlets


2 medium potatoes

1 teaspoon thinly chopped fresh coriander/cilantro leaves

1/4 - 1/2 spoon of crushed cumin seeds

A dash of red pepper

1 tablespoon of dried pomegranate also known as Anar Dana and found in middle eastern stores

1/2 cup of breadcrumbs

6 tablespoons oil for shallow frying


Wash and boil the potatoes with skin until cooked. Peel and rice them. Mix the first five ingredients and make into flat circular 4-6 patties. Spread the breadcrumbs in a flat dish and gently coat both sides of the patties with crumbs. Heat the oil in a frying pan on low heat. Put patties in hot oil until golden brown. Best served as a snack with tea or coffee.

A beaten egg can be used to coat the patties before applying crumbs.

1 – 2 servings.