Despite the usual hustle bustle – surrounding raising four children, my parents took offbeat pauses to appreciate life with food. It was their way of displaying love. Because of this, every autumn, my siblings and I anticipated the arrival of pomegranates.
Pomegranates were not in vogue. They were unfamiliar, evoking another world, ancient and far away, especially in the small town where we lived. Their exotic appeal made them expensive. That didn’t stop my parents from buying one or two. Generously, they would decline eating any, stating they had many growing up in India and that it was our turn. So sweet.
Of all the values, they instilled in us, their hard and fast rule of eating well, but not being wasteful was fundamental. We were taught to appreciate what we were eating, but also to give back to those in need, whenever possible. The process was natural, automatic.
Today, the principle of sharing, especially of food, is part of academic discussions – solutions to humanity’s social, economic, and even political problems. It’s interesting that two immigrants were so ahead of their time in understanding the importance of sharing as a way forward for society.
To get to the pomegranate arils (seeds) is a labour intensive task. Shockingly, my mom would give us our own quartered sections and allow us to separate the seeds from the thin membranes. We were super careful. The explosive, red juice had the potential to stain our clothes, or worse our white walls and lovely carpeting. BIG trouble would ensue if we made a mess.
My sisters and I would eat the pomegranate seeds as we went along, but my brother would carefully remove all the seeds and then feast. Either way, our efforts always revealed glistening rows of rubies. We would briefly pause and take in the wonderment, the beauty. Nowadays, when in season, I eat pomegranates at every opportunity.
For me, one of the best tasting flavors in Indian cuisine is paradoxically one of the least appreciated. Chaat Masala captures flavour and delivers it to you as a zingy, tangy, slightly hot powderized salt form: a miracle of sorts. But how to use it? In this instance, chaat masala dressing.
Like all masala blends, there are hundreds of variations for recipes. But there are some consistencies in the base – dried mango powder (amchoor), asafoetida (hing), and black salt.
For this salad, the dressing elevates the ingredients by creating a melded hot, sour and salty combination. The pomegranate arils add a sweet crunch, and the ruby coloured jewels make the dark green spinach pop. The Asian pear imparts a juicy caramel sweetness with floral notes of melon and a mild acidity.
This salad is a beautiful composed starter, but it can also be a base for a terrific main dish. Add chunks of goat cheese or a protein of your choice. Maybe even a few thin slices of toasted ciabatta, brushed with olive oil.
*In case you are wondering, I recently made this salad for my parents and reminisced about pomegranates as a kid. Blushing, they provided rave reviews.
Pomegranate & Asian Pear Salad with Chaat Masala Dressing
6 to 8 cups spinach leaves
1 large Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pomegranate, seeded
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chaat masala
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
Core pear and thinly slice; toss with lemon juice. Divide the spinach on plates. Arrange the pear slices on top (Be fancy, make a fan shape).
Cut open the pomegranate and separate the seeds from the membranes. You can use whatever method you like or find easiest. One piece of advice: be patient.
Sprinkle salads with pomegranate seeds (I like lots).
Meanwhile, in bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, black pepper, chaat masala, and vinegar. Slowly, add the oil. Whisk.
Drizzle dressing lightly over each plated salad. Less is more in this case.