Pomegranate Molasses Could Be Your Secret Weapon

Sep 2, 2013
Originally published on September 2, 2013 9:36 am

This is an installment of NPR's Cook Your Cupboard, an ongoing food series about working with what you have on hand. Have a food that has you stumped? Share a photo and we'll ask chefs about our favorites. The current submission category is: Freezer Finds!

Katharyn Head in East Lansing Mich., wasn't sure how to use canned chop suey veggies, chickpea flour and rose water. So we called up Brooklyn-based chef and cookbook author Louisa Shafia for some advice.

The Food: Canned Veggies

Head bought a dented can of vegetables because it was on sale — but, she says, they're too salty to eat straight from the can.

The Fix: Asian-Inspired

Fried Rice: Take the can of chopped veggies and sautee in a little bit of peanut oil with some cooked rice, toasted peanuts or cashews, lots of fresh basil and cilantro just before you take it off the heat. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Vietnamese-style summer rolls: Reduce the amount of salt by blanching the vegetables for 30 seconds — then shock in ice water to preserve the crispiness.

Roll them in rice paper with lots of fresh mint, basil, cilantro, cooked rice noodles and some grilled tofu or shrimp.

Whip together a dipping sauce of Hoisin (Chinese dipping sauce), peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce and Sriracha (Thai hot sauce).

The Food: Chickpea Flour And Rose Water

Head bought the chickpea flour for a recipe of vegan french toast. The rose water was an impulse buy at a Middle Eastern grocery store. She's used it in a few drinks but feels uninspired.

The Fix: Persian-Inspired

Shortbread cookies: Mix chickpea flour, sugar, cardamom, a little bit of rose water and butter together and bake.

Meatballs: Mixing the chickpea flour with ground chicken and season with a little bit of turmeric and cardamom.

Granita: Mix the rose water with fresh fruit such as watermelon fora semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water, and various flavorings — a treat that originated in Sicily, Italy.

Take the flesh out of the watermelon, blend until smooth, mix in lime juice and start with a teaspoon of rose water, some salt, and a little bit of honey. Spread the mix on a baking sheet, put it in your freezer, and every few hours scrape it with a spoon or a fork. You'll end up with a refreshing dessert — with a mild hint of rose.

Bonus Tips: Pomegranate Molasses As A Secret Weapon

Shafia explains that pomegranates, native to Iran, have been used in Persian cuisine since the beginning of their civilization.

One classic use for pomegranate is in stew — like a stew of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses mixed with chicken, turkey or duck (which could also be made with winter squash or tempeh).

Or use pomegranate molasses in a dipping sauce:

Mix the pomegranate molasses with olive oil, minced garlic, a little bit of Dijon mustard to thicken it, and enough salt to give it some flavor. This is a wonderful dipping sauce for artichokes.

And some last-minute summer time grilling: Marinate lamb, chicken, tempeh or tofu with pomegranate molasses, walnuts, minced garlic, parsley and salt.

"It makes for a magical sweet and savory taste," says Shafia.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That music means it's time again for Cook Your Cupboard. You submit photos online of odd ingredients you're not sure what to do with, and then we choose one of you to come on the air for some expert advice. Our colleague Renee Montagne has been standing way up on her toes, the way that many of us have to do, just peering around in there, looking at what's up there behind the salt and the baking powder.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Today, we've brought into our New York studio Louisa Shafia, whose most recent cookbook is "The New Persian Kitchen." Welcome.

LOUISA SHAFIA: Thank you, Renee, great to be here.

MONTAGNE: And our listener for this round is Katharyn Head. She's on the phone from East Lansing, Michigan. Good morning, to you.

KATHARYN HEAD: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, you have asked us how you can use up three things from your cupboard. Give us a list.

HEAD: The list is: a bottle of rose water, chickpea flour and canned chopped suey vegetables.

MONTAGNE: Can I just ask why you would ever have bought a can of chopped suey vegetables?

(LAUGHTER)

HEAD: I bought it because it was dented and discounted.

(LAUGHTER)

HEAD: And I thought I might as well try it.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: So you have tried one other can.

HEAD: Yes. I ate them cold, which is not a good idea because they were extremely salty.

MONTAGNE: Louisa Shafia...

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: ...this is quite a challenge, I would say.

SHAFIA: Yes. And, Katharyn, two things came to mind. One: you could sauté them in a little bit of oil with some cooked rice, toasted peanuts or cashews, lots of fresh basil and cilantro just before it comes off the heat, and then garnished with thinly sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

HEAD: That sounds wonderful.

SHAFIA: And then the other one is a Vietnamese-style summer roll. And just to take that sort of canned flavor and the extra salt off of the veggies, blanch those in boiling water for just 30 seconds, and then shock them in ice water. Roll them in rice paper with lots of fresh mint, basil, cilantro, cooked rice noodles; some grilled tofu or shrimp with together a dipping sauce of hoisin, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce and Sriracha.

MONTAGNE: That did manage to sound transformative. So chickpea flour, that was also in your list, Katharyn.

HEAD: Mm-hmm, I bought it originally for a vegan French toast recipe and it worked beautifully. But beyond that, I've had it for about two years, let's just say that.

SHAFIA: Let's talk about it. Their two classic Persian recipes that use chickpea flour, one is a shortbread cookie. The other is Persian matzo balls, which are called Gondi, which are made from chickpea flour and ground chicken, and seasoned with a little bit of turmeric and cardamom.

MONTAGNE: Katharyn, why did you get rose water and what have you tried with it?

HEAD: I got it on a whim at a Middle Eastern grocery. I had never seen it before so I bought it.

(LAUGHTER)

HEAD: I figured I will come up with something. I put it in like chilled water or a little bit in some lemonade.

SHAFIA: Yes. Well, I love that ingredient. And I know it well because Iranians use it the way Americans use vanilla extract. So it's in virtually every Persian dessert. I love rose water mixed with any fresh fruit. It's a wonderful pairing with the watermelon. So you can make a very simple granita.

Just take the flush out of the watermelon, blend it up until its pretty smooth, mix in some lime juice. Maybe just start with a teaspoon of rose water because it can be very overpowering, especially if you're not used to it. Some salt and a little bit of honey, spread that in the baking sheet. Put it in your freezer and once every few hours just scrape it with a spoon or a fork. And you will wind up with this wonderful, crushed icy dessert that's super refreshing with just a little mild scent of rose.

HEAD: Yeah, that sounds amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

HEAD: That sounds great.

MONTAGNE: It really does on a hot day, too. So that is the end of your list, Katharyn. But stick with us - we have a bonus question for Louisa.

HEAD: OK.

MONTAGNE: Pomegranate molasses is...

I have that.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: It is possibly the most submitted food item to Cook Your Cupboard. And it must have been some kind of craze. Luisa, can you help?

SHAFIA: Yes, I love pomegranate molasses. And again, this is another classic Persian ingredient. In fact, records show that Iranians have been using this ingredient since the beginning of their civilization. So many thousands of years back because pomegranates are native to Iran.

One classic way to use it in Persian cooking is in a stew called fesenjan. And it's a stew of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. And classically it's made with chicken, turkey or duck. But for vegetarians, you can use something like winter squash. Or even a vegetarian protein, like tempeh, and substitute that. And it's a mix of savory and sweet and sour flavors, and it all comes together perfectly.

You can also take pomegranate molasses and make a dipping sauce for just about anything, by whisking it with a little bit of honey, lime juice and salt. And then, since it's summer time, and I happen to love artichokes and I think a lot of people do, you can make a Middle Eastern-styled dipping sauce with a little bit of pomegranate molasses, olive oil, minced garlic, a little bit of Dijon mustard to thicken it and enough salt to give it some flavor. And you've got a wonderful dipping sauce for artichokes.

MONTAGNE: Wow, I'm just caught up in the dream of the different foods that you can...

(LAUGHTER)

HEAD: Yeah, I'd agree.

SHAFIA: Can I give you one more suggestion?

MONTAGNE: Sure.

SHAFIA: So this is for summer time grilling, you can make a mean marinade with pomegranate molasses, ground walnuts, a little bit of minced garlic, some parsley and salt. And you can marinate either lamb or chicken in that. If you want to go vegetarian, you can take chunks of tempeh or tofu. The next day, put that on the grill and it is a magical sweet and savory taste.

MONTAGNE: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Nice thoughts to start the morning with. That is Louisa Shafia, founder of Lucid Food and author of the cookbook "The New Persian Kitchen." Thank you so much.

SHAFIA: Thank you, Renee. And thanks, Katharyn, for your interesting ingredients.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, she's speaking to Katharyn Head who's talking to us from East Lansing, Michigan. She is our guest for this round of Cook Your Cupboard. Thank you, Katharyn.

HEAD: Thank you so much, Renee.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And Renee will be in our studios here in Washington starting tomorrow.

You can find more cooking suggestions from Louisa Shafia on our website, NPR.org. And if you're stumped by something in your kitchen, head to NPR.org/cupboard to submit a photo and get ideas.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.