Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pomegranate, lime and cucumber salsa

I found this recipe in a beautiful book called "Veggiestan" by Sally Butcher and it is such a hit with my family I decided to share it.

My husband, Paul Philpott, spent many years travelling in the 'stans whilst working for overseas and development agencies.  He is chronicling his adventures on his own blog - Impulse to Travel.  I was lucky enough to join him on some of his journeys and fell in love with the fresh produce and the food of this region.  As a herbivore myself, however, I must confess that I studiously avoided the boiled mutton and sheep's eyes for breakfast.

Pomegranates in the market in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (copyright: Paul Philpott)

Pomegranates have been cherished for their exquisite beauty, flavour, colour, and health benefits for centuries.

“Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech comely: thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.” (The Song of Solomon 4:3)

The name "pomegranate" derives from the Middle French "pomme garnete" - literally "seeded apple." It is also sometimes referred to as a Chinese apple. Many scholars believe that the forbidden - yet irresistible - fruit in which Eve indulged within the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate and not an apple.

Pomegranates are high in vitamin C and potassium, a great source of fibre, and low in calories. They contain three different types of polyphenols, a potent form of antioxidants. The three types - tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid - are present in many fruits, but fresh pomegranate juice contains particularly high amounts of all three.

Compounds found only in pomegranates called punicalagins are shown to benefit the heart and blood vessels. Punicalagins are the major component responsible for pomegranate's antioxidant and health benefits. They not only lower cholesterol, but also lower blood pressure and increase the speed at which heart blockages (atherosclerosis) melt away.

Not only are pomegranates good for your heart and blood vessels but they have been shown to inhibit breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia and to prevent vascular changes that promote tumour growth in lab animals.

Pomegranate juice has also been found to contain substances that stimulate serotonin and oestrogen receptors, improving symptoms of depression and increasing bone mass in lab animals.

This recipe is a real winner.  It is quick and easy to make and can be used as a salad, starter or relish.  One word of warning - it is a good idea to wear an apron.


Serves 6


1 large juicy pomegranate

Cut the pomegranate in half with a sharp knife; hold each half upside down over a bowl and hit the back of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon until the seeds come out. Wash seeds in water and remove any remaining pith, which should float to the surface.

1 medium cucumber, finely diced

2-3 tomatoes, finely diced

1 green pepper, finely diced

1 red chilli, chopped (you can choose a mild or a hot one to taste)

½ bunch each of fresh mint and coriander, washed and chopped

1 small bunch spring onions, finely diced

Drizzle of olive oil

1 fresh lime, juiced

Mix all these ingredients together with the pomegranate seeds, stir well, cover and chill.

Serve as a salad, a starter or a relish.

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1. Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004;23(3):423-33.

2. Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation:studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(5):1062-76. Aviram M, Dornfeld L. Pomeganate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin coverting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure. Atherosclerosis 2001;158(1):195-8.

3. Kim ND, Mehta R, Yu W, et al. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2002;71(3):203-17. Kohno H, Suzuki R, Yasui Y, et al. Pomegranate seed oil rich in conjugated linolenic acid suppresses chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.Cancer Sci 2004;95(6):481-6.

Toi M, Bando H, Ramachandran C, et al. Preliminary studies on the anti-angiogenic potential of pomegranate fractions in vitro and in vivo. Angiogenesis 2003;6(2):121-8.
Kawaii S, Lansky EP. Differentiation-promoting activity of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells. J Med Food 2004;7(1):13-8.

4. Mori-Okamoto J, Otawara-Hamamoto Y, Yamato H, Yoshimura H. Pomegranate extract improves a depressive state and bone properties in menopausal syndrome model ovariectomized mice. J Ethnopharmacol 2004;92(1):93-101.

5. Seeram et al, J Nutr Biochemistry 2005: (16) 360-367.

Herby lemon chickpea falafels

Falafel is a traditional Arab food, usually served in pitta bread with fresh salad, pickled vegetables and tahini-based sauces.  They can be eaten on their own as a snack or served as part of a meze, which is a mixture of different starters.  They are usually deep-fried but I prefer to brush them with olive oil and bake them in the oven.

Traditionally, falafel are made with chickpeas or fava beans.

According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks,

“The first known appearance of legume fritters (aka falafel) in the Middle East appears to be in Egypt, where they were made from dried white fava beans (ful nabed) and called tamiya/ta-amia (from the Arabic for ‘nourishment’); these fritters were a light green colour inside. Many attribute tamiya to the Copts of Egypt, who practiced one of the earliest forms of Christianity. They believed that the original state of humankind was vegetarian and, therefore, mandated numerous days of eating only vegan food, including tamiya.”

Traditionally, spices and herbs such as ground cumin, ground coriander and parsley are used in falafel but you can add all sorts of different vegetables, herbs and spices to change the flavour.  Here are some ideas:

  • Roasted red pepper and fresh basil
  • Fennel seeds, carrot and orange zest
  • Butternut squash and sumac
  • Lemon and fresh coriander

You just need to take care to achieve the right balance between the quantity of chickpeas and the quantity of fresh herbs and vegetables, otherwise the mixture will go mushy and you will not be able to form it into balls.  If your mixture is too mushy you can try reducing the quantity of vegetables used, increasing the quantity of chickpeas and/or adding some chickpea (gram) flour to help to bind it.

Please let me know how you get on if you try this recipe as I am always striving to improve how I explain things.  I'd also like to know what you think of the recipe format, so please leave your comments below.

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You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn and visit my website.


Serves 4


1 small white onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pinch sea salt

Saute chopped onion in olive oil with a small pinch of salt (the salt draws water out of the onion and lowers the temperature, so prevents burning) on a low flame until soft and translucent.  If the oil sizzles the temperature is too high.

1 small carrot, grated
Add the carrot to the onion and sauté gently

1 can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 small handful fresh green herbs, e,g, one or more of parsley, thyme, lemon balm, marjoram, coriander

Zest of ½ lemon

1 dessertspoon sweet white miso (shiro miso).  You can just use salt and pepper if you have no miso though you will miss out on all the amazing nutrients in this fermented soy paste.

Fresh parsley or coriander to garnish
Put chickpeas, herbs, lemon zest and miso into a blender jug and add the sauted onion and carrot.

Blend until smooth.

Taste and adjust seasoning as appropriate

Shape into small balls about the size of a ping-pong ball, slightly flatten, place on a parchment-lined baking tray and brush with a little olive oil.

Bake in a medium oven (180˚C, 350˚F, gas mark 4) for 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown.

Garnish with parsley or coriander and serve as a sandwich in pitta bread with salad, on their own as a snack or as one of a selection of starters (meze).