What is Anardana?
Anardana is the name for a culinary spice made from the dried seeds and pulp of some varieties of pomegranate fruit (Punica granatum) that are too sour to eat fresh. The wild pomegranates, known as daru and grown in the southern Himalayas, are believed to yield the highest quality seeds for making the sticky spice, though it is also made from cultivated fruit. Wild pomegranates are preferred, however, as they can be grown easily with almost no care or maintenance until the fruits are ready to be harvested. The small pomegranate fruits reach a diameter of only 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) with a hard outer rind and dark red to pinkish-white seeds.
Anardana's name derives from the Persian anar (pomegranate) and dana (seeds). The spice is used most frequently in Indian and Pakistani cuisine to add tartness to dishes, and sometimes in Middle Eastern or Persian foods to replace pomegranate syrup. Used mostly for vegetables and legumes, anardana is also sometimes used to flavor meat dishes. In India, reduced pomegranate juice, or grenadine, is used to marinate meat, since its enzymes tenderize and add subtle flavor. It is believed that the anardana spice produces a similar result when used in the same way.
The pomegranate seeds and pulp are dried together to make anardana, and because of their extremely sticky texture and reddish-brown color, they are sometimes referred to as “pomegranate molasses.” The traditional drying method consists of spreading the pulp and seed mixture onto rooftops and allowing them to dry in the sun for about two weeks. This method is still in use today, though it's considered unhygienic because the pulp often becomes covered in dirt and dust. Mechanical drying is being used more frequently now, as it dries the fruit in less time (5 to 48 hours in a food dehydrator) and produces a more sanitary end product.
Both anardana powder and seeds are typically available for purchase at Middle Eastern and Indian food markets. The powdered spice is preferred for its ease of use in cooking, but anardana seeds store longer and provide additional texture to food. Pomegranate molasses, which contains both pulp and seed together, may also be found for purchase and can be used in a fashion similar to pomegranate syrup. In powdered form, the spice is often added to spiced chickpeas or used in combination with other herbs and spices as a marinade for meat and vegetables. Pomegranate molasses can be drizzled over crepes or other sweet pastries.
I like to make pomegranate shrimp, which is really just shrimp seasoned with anardana, among other spices. First, I make a marinade for the shrimp to soak in for 30 minutes. I crush some garlic with ginger and add a bit of lemon juice, salt, and turmeric.
Then, I heat peanut oil on medium and add some more garlic, coriander, anardana, and some slices of red pepper and tomato. I cook this for 5 minutes. Next, I add a dash of chili powder, some more ginger, and 6 tablespoons of water. I cook this until it reduces by half.
Next, I stir in garam masala and set the mixture aside. I heat some more oil and put cumin seeds, birds eye chiles, the sauce mixture, the shrimp and the marinade into the skillet. I cook all of this for about 10 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink.
This dish is best served over white rice. The blandness of the rice helps absorb the spicy kick.
I love the flavor of spiced chickpeas with anardana. They are easy to make, because all you have to do is heat them with oil and spices.
I like to use a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a big skillet. With the heat set to medium, I cook sliced onion in it until it is brown and soft. Then, I add some minced garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cloves, and, of course, anardana to the skillet.
I simmer these ingredients for 5 minutes before adding the chickpeas. Once I put them in the skillet, I stir the mixture very well and cook it until the peas are hot.
These anardana-seasoned peas go great with a salad and breadsticks. Since they are so packed with spices, I make the breadsticks and salad pretty bland to contrast the power and cleanse the palate.
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