Pomegranate soup with meatballs

In Iran, people generally use sour pomegranate juice to make this soup. In this recipe I use sweet pomegranate juice combined with pomegranate molasses to give a sweet and sour taste. If you prefer it sweeter, add a little honey at the end. The fried mint topping gives this soup a wonderful flavour. For a vegetarian version, omit the meatballs and use vegetable stock instead.

pomegranate soup
Atoosa Sepehr

SERVES 6

50g fresh flat-leaf parsley
50g fresh coriander
40g fresh mint leaves
60g fresh chives (or the green part of spring onions)
3 tbsp olive oil
3 large onions, finely chopped
½ tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
40g basmati rice, rinsed
80g dried yellow split peas, rinsed
60g pearl barley, rinsed
1 litre meat stock
1 litre pomegranate juice
100ml pomegranate molasses
Salt

FOR THE MEATBALLS

300g minced lamb (up to 20% fat)
1 onion, coarsely grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt

FOR THE TOPPINGS
Fried mint
3 onions for crispy fried onion
(optional)
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

1. Finely chop all the herbs, either by hand or in a food processor (do not overchop them in the processor), and set aside. In a large heavy-based pan, add the olive oil and the onions, stir to mix, and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes until caramelized (do not rush this stage as the cooked onions form the base of the soup); stir occasionally at first and more frequently as the onions begin to change colour to prevent them from burning.
2. Add the turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, stir for 30 seconds, then add the rice, split peas, barley and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to the lowest setting, put the lid on and simmer for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, make the meatballs: add all the ingredients to a large bowl and knead with your hand until evenly mixed, then shape into small meatballs (about 2–3cm in diameter). Set aside.
3. Add the chopped herbs, pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses to the soup pan and stir well until fully mixed. Bring to the boil, add the meatballs, bring back to the boil and then turn the heat to the lowest setting, put the lid on and simmer for 50 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
4. Cook for a further 3 minutes on a medium heat without the lid.
5. While the soup is simmering, make the toppings and set aside. To serve, garnish the soup with the fried mint topping, and crispy fried onion if using, and scatter over some pomegranate seeds if you like.

Recipe from From a Persian Kitchen – Authentic Recipes & Fabulous Flavours From Iran by Atoosa Sepehr, published by Robinson, £26