Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Pomegranate: Home-Style Persian Cuisine

Nestled in the heart of Little Italy, Pomegranate opened in 2004 by food lovers Danielle Schrage and Alireza Fashrashrafi, the husband and wife team also behind Sheherazade and Takht-e Tavoos. With a shared passion for Persian cuisine, Danielle, co-owner and front of house manager, collaborated with her husband Alireza, co-owner and head chef, to redefine Iranian dining in Toronto. Inspired by more than five centuries of traditional Iranian cafés known as sofreh khaneh or qahva khaneh, Pomegranate blends ancient and modern traditions of Persian cooking to create delightful and timelessly classic food. The jewel-toned interior of the restaurant, with handmade textiles, lush carpets, hanging lanterns and ornate tiles of Persian poetry, as well as a small shimmering fish pond at the entry, come together to create a fairytale backdrop to Pomegranate's sensational cuisine. Chef Fakhrashrafi's kitchen unearths a wealth of simple slow-cooked home-style dishes – the alchemy of Persian cuisine — focussing on a variety of stews or khoresh from different regions of Iran. Danielle could speak for days about the exotic ingredients used to create the restaurant's authentic Iranian dishes, as we did at length the evening we dined at Pomegranate. The couple travels back to Iran every year, bringing with them new spices and recipes to add to the menu. "Some ingredients, like saffron, must be imported from Iran. This is challenging, but necessary for the authenticity of the food." For traditional Persian cuisine in a warm and inviting atmosphere with friendly service and all at a great price, Pomegranate is the place for authentic home-style slow cooking as enjoyed in Iran — simple, slow-cooked and delicious.

The colourful interior of Pomegranate with hanging lantern, Persian rugs, paintings and calligraphic tilework  

Persian pierced copper and brass hanging lantern against a sea of turquoise

A tile enclosed fish pond with goldfish is at the front of the restaurant

Danielle Schrage, co-owner and front of house manager, has collaborated with her husband Alireza Fakhrashrafi, co-owner and head chef, to redefine the Iranian dining scene in Toronto

Noon-o Paneer-o Gerdu: creamy feta cheese, black kalamata olives, herbs and walnuts 

Warm Barbary bread is served with each of the appetizers

Maast-o Khiara: blend of English cucumber, walnuts, raisins and rose petals in a rich creamy herbed yogurt

Kashk-e Bademjaan: charred eggplant, persian whey, garlic and walnuts topped with crispy onion

Adas Polo with braised lamb shank, lentils, dates and sultana raisins blended into a saffron basmati rice topped with crispy onion with barberries

Maast-e Saadeh: fresh creamy yogurt dusted with dried mint and rose petals

Our server arriving with a bottle Cavallina, a Syrah-Nero d’Avola from Sicily, which is served in lovely blue ceramic cups custom made for Pomegranate

A Persian Qajar Khoresh stew with braised lamb, lava beans, beets and root vegetables served with saffron basmati rice, based on an historic recipe found by chef Fakhrashrafi while in Tehran recently

Close-up of the special Koresh chef Fakhrashrafi made this evening

Bastani-Akbar-Mashti: Persian ice cream made with milk, eggs, sugar, rose water, saffron, vanilla and pistachios, garnished with pomegranate seeds, slivered pistachios and rose petals

A Zulbia Tray of Persian sweets, with jalebi and noon’eh nokhoodchi

Mint Tea made with fresh leaves and served in a traditional manner, on a brass tray with sugar cubes

Photo by Michelle Siu

Persian Shrimp Stew
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy Chef Alireza Fakhrashrafi, Pomegranate

1 medium cooking onion, finely chopped
6 tbsp grapeseed oil, divided
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/2 cup dried fenugreek, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained
4 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp tamarind paste or pomegranate molasses
2 cups raw deveined shrimp, divided
6 mini potatoes, boiled and drained 6 grape tomatoes
1 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp ground saffron in 1 tbsp hot water
2 finely chopped bird’s-eye chili peppers

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté onion in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. When the onions are golden, add garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and coriander. Sauté for 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat.

In a dry skillet, wilt 1 1/2 cups of cilantro and fenugreek until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of oil and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes longer. Combine this mixture with onion and spices along with water, salt and tamarind paste. Mix well and taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary. Add 1/4 cup of shrimp to mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan, heat remaining tablespoon of oil and sauté whole potatoes and tomatoes over medium until lightly coloured.

In a separate skillet, melt butter and sauté remaining shrimp with saffron water and remaining cilantro for 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer simmered mixture to a serving dish and top with sautéed shrimp. Garnish with chilies, potatoes and tomatoes and serve with steamed bulgur or rice and sides of yogurt, fresh herbs and Persian pickles.