The new season is marked by more than an equinox. In fact, the season can arrive earlier or later than it’s designated box on the calendar- having lived in New England for four years I should know. In New Hampshire and Vermont, autumn arrives with the foliage, brilliant shades of orange and crimson, and apple cider freshly pressed and bottled. In Tehran, my father brought autumn’s arrival home with a carton of pomegranates. My mother would stock our refrigerator shelves with the ruby pearls poured into glass tupperware, and my father would press the rest for juice, and it was then that we knew summer had come to an end.
I gave into the temptation of a box of pomegranates at our last last trip to Costco. Despite knowing in our gut that the kernels would not be ripe and ruby, my husband and I could not resist. I had just spoken to my father the day before, and he had told me that he had bought their first carton of the season. Iranians believe in making a wish upon your first fruit of the year; your first apricot, your first clementine, or your first fresh walnut of the season. I made a wish upon my first pomegranate of this year’s fall, albeit my wish didn’t come true. I cut into the fruit but alas, one after another, neither were that deep red, so plump they would just crumble off the skin.
Yet, pomegranate seeds, perfectly ripened or not, add great multidimensional texture and sweet acidity to a salad. And, I’m not in the motherland of the sacred fruit so, subpar seeds will just have to do. I’m admittedly jealous of the mouthwatering juice my parents are squeezing back at home. Because in Iran, pomegranates are embedded in the culture and cuisine, the kernels eaten by spoon, its paste added to stews, its juice sold at street stalls, and present whole in holiday and celebratory spreads, symbolizing fertility and love. For in Persian mythology, it was said that Esfandiar ate a pomegranate and became invincible.
AUTUMN ARUGULA SALAD WITH POMEGRANATES AND STRAWBERRY VINAIGRETTE:
For the salad:
7 oz baby arugula
12-15 small to medium strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup red quinoa
3 Persian cucumbers, halved then sliced
4 tbs pistachio meat, dry roasted
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
For the dressing:
1 tbsp strawberry or strawberry rhubarb jam
3 1/2 tbsp pomegranate vinegar
juice of 2 limes
1/4 tsp salt
1 sprig of fresh mint, finely chopped
Cook quinoa according to the package. 1/2 cup quinoa will call for 1 cup liquid. While the quinoa is cooking, you can prepare your other ingredients. Once quinoa is cooked, fluff it with a fork and let it cool.
Wash and thoroughly dry the arugula- dressing won’t hold on well if there’s a lot of water. Add to a large bowl. Slice strawberries, as well as the cucumbers. Persian cucumbers are more fragrant, with more crunch and less seed. It’s skin is more delicate than other cucumbers, so unless your cukes are getting wrinkled and old, feel free to keep the skin on. Add the sliced cucumbers and strawberries to the arugula.
Crack open your pomegranate, and pray it’s a good one, prying the seeds off. I score mine in quarters, then crack it open and gently sprinkle the seeds off with my fingers. You can also whack the back with a spoon, holding it over a bowl, and the seeds will fall right off. Do this over a separate bowl, to remove any white ribs. Then, add to bowl of salad. Add pistachio meat and cooled quinoa.
For the dressing, whisk all ingredients together. I like to use a lidded jar and shake the hell out of it. I can also keep any extra dressing for the next day.
Toss salad with the dressing, then add crumbled feta.Serve, eat, enjoy, be invincible.