It is hard to believe Pomegranate Soup is Marsha Mehran’s first novel. It is not so hard to believe her love affair with food. It comes across through the novel’s heroine Marjan who cooks everything in her restaurant with the utmost care and attention. The oldest of the three sisters, she is thrust into the role of a parent and caretaker to Bahar and Layla at an early age. The novel moves deftly between Khomani revolution era Iran and the present day Irish village of Ballinacroagh (Ba-li-na-crow).
The sisters escape the increasingly volatile Iran with their lives and a few treasured possessions and manage to find a life in England for a few years before they have to flee Bahar’s dark past once more. They try to make a new life for themselves in the little Irish village by opening The Babylon Café that serves Persian fare. With its rich aromas of spices and herbs it attracts an eclectic mix of villagers, from the local priest to the town hairdresser and the church social ladies to teenagers and children who come to eat the elephant ears Marjan cooks every day.
The sisters quickly discover that all is not well when the town bully Thomas McGuire finds out that the Italian café he had coveted for years has been converted into the Babylon Café. He starts a campaign to run the sisters run out of business by every means possible and they find themselves fighting a different enemy altogether. This time around their weapons are the cherished recipes Marjan took with her as they fled Iran and their shield the few patrons who find their lives changed when they eat her delicious food.
Mehran cooks a sweat and spicy tale of the three sisters and the bond they share. They are not unlike a pomegranate with its seeds sticking together under a hard shell. But once the shell is broken, the sisters give up their sweetness for the world to enjoy.
For the recipe inspired by the book I wanted to make the elephant ears that Marjan makes every day by rolling out the dough, deep frying in oil and sprinkling with sugar. But since I am on calorie count I decided to go with the red lentil soup. Red lentils or split masoor dal do not take long to cook on the stove top. However, you can cook these in the pressure cooker. This is my shortcut recipe adapted from the book’s original recipe.
Red Lentil Soup (Masoor dal)
I am sending this click off to Jugalbandi's CLICK - ALLIUM.
1 cup dry red lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
4 tsp ground cumin
3 cups water / chicken or vegetable broth
Salt to taste
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped in half moons
2 tsps olive oil
Wash the lentils thrice in water and keep aside.
In a pot heat a tablespoon of oil and fry the chopped onions, garlic, turmeric and cumin until soft and fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook till soft. Add the lentils, broth and water to the pot. Add salt and black pepper and bring the soup to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or till the lentils are cooked through.
Fry the onion for the garnish in olive oil until crisp but not blackened. Add as a garnish over individual bowls of soup.
I am sending this off to Susan’s MLLA – 14 and to Sireesha's Soup and Juice event.