Nardan Aşı: Pomegranate paired with meatballs – an ancient taste

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

When you think of pomegranates, mostly drinks and desserts come to mind. But there’s a reality we forget in our globalized world: Tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables weren’t available all around the world. Before the two hemispheres swapped ingredients for their acidic touch - pomegranates were used instead. Let’s have a look at what this meatball stew featuring pomegranates has in store.

What is Nardan Aşı?

In this stew you have tiny meatballs that are flavored with pomegranates and pomegranate molasses, making for a sweet-sour combination.

Jump to Recipe

The origins

Pomegranates are called “fruit of the ancients” (1) for a reason. They have been around for millennia in the Middle East (2) and are said to be native to Iran and spread from there to Egypt, Anatolia and Greece, where it even became the subject of myths, such as the legend of Demeter and Persephone. (3)

This fruit is laden with history and is in some cultures even considered the fruit that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat in the Garden of Eden. It was used as a substitute for lemons and considering that there is not one kind of pomegranate (both sweet and sour kinds), it was quite the giver of flavor. Taking advantage of this flavor profile, a stew with pomegranate juice was mentioned as a cure for a hangover in the Medieval Age. (4)

But the earliest written mention of a meatball dish with pomegranates can be dated back to 1250 called Rummaniyya, translated from Arabic as “dish with pomegranate”. It might not sound breathtaking or anything spectacular, but it was to the people of Egypt, where this recipe is quoted, that were pretty bored with meatballs as a simple dish. The dish is considered a product of influences brought by immigration caused by the many conflicts in the Middle East in the 13th century. (5)

This medieval dish spread even further into Europe and in some parts even has kept its Arab origin, still being called “romania” stemming from the “rummaniyya”. (6)

These Arabic influences were of course as prevalent in Anatolia and the Ottoman empire as well. (7) While this sweet-sour dish did the rounds in the region, it lost interest after the 15th-16th century and aside from the southeastern regions of Turkey, such as Diyarbakır and Mardin, was lost to history.

Etymology

Nardan aşı quite literally translates to “dish out of pomegranates” probably being a direct translation of the rummaniyya. The word nar itself for pomegranate was taken by the Persian “nar” or “anar” (نار/أنار) meaning the same thing.

Nardan Aşı: Pomegranate paired with meatballs - an ancient taste

With that much time passing the recipe of nardan aşı is still kept alive in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

Ingredients

  • 500 gr low fat minced beef
  • 200 gr thin bulgur
  • 400 ml pomegranate molasses
  • 2 pomegranates
  • 150 gr chickpeas
  • 120 gr walnuts
  • 2 onions
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bundle parsley
  • salt pepper, red pepper flakes, dried basil

Instructions

  • Grate one of the onions and knead it together with the beef, bulgur, some dried basil, pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes until it sticks to each other.
  • Let that rest for about 10 minutes.
  • Cook the chickpeas and walnuts in a separate pot.
  • Knead that meat mixture once more and roll tiny meatballs the size of hazelnuts and set them aside.
  • Chop the other onion finely and saute it in a pot until it starts to soften and add the tomato paste.
  • Continue roasting for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add hot water and let that simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Add the pomegranate molasses and let that simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Add the tiny meatballs, the cooked chickpeas and walnuts and let that simmer on low heat for another 20 minutes.
  • Serve with chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds on top.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Robert Hendrickson, Talking Turkey - A Food Lover’s Guide to the Origins of Culinary Words and Phrases, 2014
(2) Linda Civitello, Cuisine and Culture - A history of Food and People, 2011
(3) Joan P. Alcock, Food in the ancient world, 2006
(4) Priscilla Mary Işın, Bountiful Empire - A history of Ottoman Cuisine, 2018
(5) William Sitwell, A history of food in 100 recipes, 2012
(6) Lilia Zaouali, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, 2007
(7) Mustafa Aksoy, Gülistan Sezgi, Gastronomy Tourism and Southeastern Anatolia Region Gastronomic Elements in “Journal of Tourism and Gastronomy Studies”, 2015
 
 
 
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