Persian Pomegranate Soup: Ash-e Anar

Pomegranates, when they are properly ripe, are a revelation of sweet aroma and tart flavor.

The tiny shimmering garnet fruits burst in the mouth, shooting sweet juices tinged with a sour aftertaste, with the barest hint of bitterness from the seed within.

I grew up eating one or two pomegranates a year, as treats. My father introduced me to them–he had eaten them very rarely as a child, and he remembered them as the most amazing fruit imaginable. I grew up eating them raw, and out of hand, carefully tearing away the leathery burgundy rind, and picking the seeds away from the flavorless pith, popping them into my mouth one by one, the juice staining my fingers first pink, then violet, and finally, black, as the juice oxidized in the beds of my fingernails, and cuticles.

It never occurred to me to cook with them until I began reading about the foods of Persia, now called Iran.

The Persians use a great deal of pomegranate fruit in their foods, either as the fresh fruit itself, or in the form of dried pomegranate seeds, or in the form of their juice, boiled down into a viscous dark liquid that is both as strongly sweet and fragrant as honey, and as sour as lemons–known as pomegranate molasses.

Pomegranates are used in both sweet and savory dishes throughout the Arab world, but I have found some of the most decadently delicious dishes in the cuisine of Persia–including this recipe for pomegranate soup, which, after I adapted it and played with it, may become a staple soup in my repertoire.

It begins with a strong flavor base from well-browned onions and garlic cooked in olive oil. Yellow split peas are added and cooked to a pale brown, before a large amount of chicken broth or stock (or, if you wanted to make this vegetarian, vegetable broth) is poured into the pot.

Then, come the spices, including black pepper, turmeric, a stick of cinnamon, and about a teaspoon of Aleppo pepper.

Meatballs made of lamb, minced garlic, minced onion and fresh herbs, are added, along with some basmati rice, and pomegranate molasses, before the soup is allowed to simmer. The pomegranate molasses gives the soup a deep brownish red coloring, and the spices give it an incredible fragrance.

Right before serving, fresh mint, cilantro, parsley and chives are stirred in, along with a small amount of heavy cream–a completely inauthentic addition which helps round out the flavors and soften the tartness of the pomegranate. About a cup or so of fresh pomegranate seeds go in as well to give bursts of color and flavor to the finished dish.

The resulting soup is both hearty and delicate: it is quite filling with the split peas, rice and meatballs, but the flavors are painterly, with subtle strokes of spice, kisses of sweetness from the fruit and a deep richness from the meatballs.

(The meatballs could be replaced with mushrooms for a vegetarian version–for a vegan version, leave out the cream altogether or replace it with a small amount of almond milk or coconut cream.)

This would make a good light supper with a hearty salad of mixed greens, fresh spinach, goat cheese, nuts and fruits.

Ash-e Anar


4 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 large cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup yellow split peas
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 pound lean ground lamb
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1/4 cup freshly minced fresh herbs–a mixture of cilantro, mint, and parsley
1 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream–optional
3 cups fresh pomegranate seeds
1 cup mixed fresh herbs, minced–use at least two of the following: chives, cilantro, mint and parsley
salt, to taste


Heat olive oil in the bottom of a heavy stockpot, and saute onions until they turn golden brown. Add garlic, and continue stirring and cooking until the onions are well browned, the garlic is golden, and everything is fragrant. Add the split peas, and continue cooking until the peas take on a bit of color, about a minute or so longer.

Add the stock and the spices, and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the peas are tender.

Mix together the lamb, minced garlic, onion and herbs until well blended, and form into walnut sized balls.

Drop the meatballs and rice into the soup, and add the pomegranate molasses, and sugar or honey. Cook until the rice, split peas and meatballs are cooked. Stir in the optional cream if you are using it, along with the fresh pomegranate seeds and fresh herbs.

Add salt to taste, and if needed, correct seasoning. Fish out cinnamon stick before serving.


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  1. I have also used pomegranate molasses in various things. I think that Claudia Rodden’s book on Middle Eastern Cooking has several recipes using either pomegranate or the molasses. I just love eating them raw, getting the juice all over myself and ending up with a huge pile of pith and skin.

    Comment by Nancy — November 14, 2007 #

  2. that looks delicious and hearty barbara. I completely agree with you – the sweet and the tart flavor of the fruit is really unique. I make pomegranate rasam which is quite delicious too!

    Comment by mandira — November 14, 2007 #

  3. I just wanted to say… yummy. I really have to give these recipes a try. I grew up eating pomegrantes just as a fruit, we don’t use them in cooking as such. My gran and mum would patiently peel (it’s not even the correct word, but English is escaping me right now) the fruit and leave jars of delicious looking red seeds in the fridge and watch until we ate every single one. I’ve almost forgotten what pomegranets taste like… they’re hard to come by in the UK and when they do make an appearance it’s either as sugary juice or as sad looking but ridiculously expensive fruits (someone discovered they have antioxidant properties).

    Comment by Mamlambo — November 15, 2007 #

  4. mmmm… when do we get to taste this??

    Comment by Hilarie — November 15, 2007 #

  5. I was thinking of running this as a special week after next, Hilarie. I’ve been testing out recipes at home and then bringing them in to work after I know what I am about.

    Comment by Barbara — November 16, 2007 #

  6. I just wanted to say I made this for dinner tonight with a beet salad and it was one of the best dinners I’ve ever had.

    Comment by Gillian — November 18, 2007 #

  7. Gillian–that is wonderful! I am very happy to hear that.

    If you like this recipe, you will like the way I make fezenjan koresh–a Persian poultry stew with pomegranate and walnuts.

    The next time I run it as a special at the restaurant, I will photograph it and do a post on it.

    I forgot to photograph it last time….

    Comment by Barbara — November 18, 2007 #

  8. Barbara,
    Thanks for the permission to re-print your recipe. It was delicious! Here my version of it and some pictures.

    Comment by Quinces And The Pea — December 5, 2010 #

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