Pomegranates light up the darkest night of the year

When I was in college, every winter break, my mom would welcome me home with a Tupperware full of anan, or pomegranates in Farsi. I popped generous spoonfuls of the bright red seeds – sour, fragrant, still deliciously cold from the fridge – into my mouth and imagined my mother anticipating my arrival, standing on a cutting board and using both hands to removing the jewel… like arils from the membrane, the deep crimson staining his hands.

Pomegranates are important in Persian culture and cuisine: the basis of dishes such as khoresh-e fesenjoon, a sweet and sour stew, or ash-e anar, a pomegranate soup. Originally from what is now Iran, the fruit is part of the mythology of many ancient cultures; Some believe it was the Edenic forbidden fruit. And, as Naz Deravian explores in this story, it’s especially meaningful this time of year. At Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian celebration of the winter solstice, pomegranates represent light triumphing over darkness and are passed around to welcome the brighter days ahead.

People often tell me they avoid buying pomegranates, considering them too long to prepare, too messy, too difficult, nothing like the instant gratification of opening, say, an orange. But I always find peeling to be a meditative experience. If you do it the right way (and there are many right ways), the seeds slide right out of the pith. On this longest night of the year, set aside a couple of minutes to prepare this much-earned fruit, for yourself or a loved one. The effort will be worth it.

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