Pomegranates. They’re probably as trendy as a fruit can be. Open a food mag or check out food packaging and chances are these ruby jewels will feature – on pretty much anything, from chocolate cupcakes to raw boerewors. (I get the former, the latter is a bit weird.)
My memory of pomegranates is a nostalgic one that goes way back. Back to before they were fashionable or indeed available in shops at all. You had to grow them yourself. I can’t remember a single garden in the small Highveld town we lived in that did not boast a pomegranate tree or two. We’d watch with great anticipation and not pick them until they were so ripe, their skins practically burst. Then we’d sit there, right under the tree, and devour them in minutes.
That’s still my favourite way of eating pomegranates. I don’t mean barefoot in the dirt under a tree of course. I mean just the fruit, unadorned. And you absolutely have to wrestle them out of their clingy white membranes yourself, none of this shop-bought nonsense where the work is done for you.
But I do also love cooking with them. So when SABC 3’s Expresso morning show recently asked me to come up with a savoury recipe that uses pomegranate, naturally I said yes. Middle Eastern and Moroccan come to mind when I think savoury and pomegranate. A tagine was too complicated for a breakfast TV slot, I needed quick ’n easy.
So I grabbed some lamb steak strips, and marinated them in lush full cream yoghurt along with all the wonderful warming spices one would normally find in a lamb tagine. I threaded the strips on skewers, pan-fried them briefly, and served them with fruity couscous and a pomegranate raita. Eat it just as is, or combine with large lettuce leaves for a delicious, healthy wrap.
All you need is…
For the kebabs
500g lamb steak
150g full cream Greek yoghurt
3 green cardamom pods, smashed open
1 tsp powdered coriander
1 tsp powdered cumin
½ tsp ordinary paprika (not smoked)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp powdered turmeric
thin wooden skewers, soaked in water for 10 minutes
For the couscous
¾ cup plain couscous
¾ cup boiling water
small sachet of chicken stock concentrate
¼ cup almond flakes, toasted in a dry pan until brown
½ cup pistachios, toasted in a dry pan until crunchy, then roughly chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds
large handful of coriander, roughly chopped
3 tbs mint, finely chopped
1 medium-strength red chilli, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup fresh dates, diced (or the equivalent in sultanas, or a mix of sultanas and dried apricots)
For the raita
¼ cup cucumber, diced
¼ cup pomegranates
small container (150g) full cream Greek yoghurt
pinch of salt
generous pinch of cumin
Large lettuce leaves
Cut the lamb steak into long strips, about 2cm wide and 1cm thick. Mix the yoghurt and all the spices. Add the meat to the spicy yoghurt, mix thoroughly, cover and chill for at least an hour, preferably 2, to marinate.
Add the couscous, boiling water and chicken stock to a large bowl, cover with a plate and leave for half an hour. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, separate it with a fork so it’s nice a fluffy. Measure out two cups of cooked couscous and add the rest of the ingredients to it, mix lightly with a fork and set aside.
Mix the raita ingredients. Leave a few of the pomegranate pips out so you can sprinkle them on top for the pretty.
Remove the meat from the fridge, sprinkle generously with salt and thread onto wooden skewers in a zig-zag pattern. Cook on the braai or in a hot pan with a generous glug of olive oil.
Serve kebabs right away with couscous, raita and lettuce on a large platter and let everybody build their perfect spicy Middle-Eastern lettuce wrap.