I never paid much attention to pomegranate molasses, probably because my own mama and most in our clan never cook with it, even though it is a common Middle Eastern flavoring. But over the last year or two, this dark, tangy, semi-sweet molasses-style syrup has been showing up and begging for me to take notice.
When we were in Lebanon in the spring, on more than one occasion a little bowl was placed on the table after dinner. It looked like a bowl of tahini, which it was, but it was a layer of tahini over pomegranate molasses. The pomegranate in Arabic is called “dibs” and the molasses “roman.” My darling cousins just called the bowl dibs, and they were so excited to show us this. It was beautiful, the whole thing, the way the syrup and tahini were stirred together and the way pieces of the best flat bread you’ve eaten since Sitto died were torn off the loaf, then folded up as we do to make a little scoop. My cousin made a little scoop of dibs and tahini for everyone at the table, and I enjoyed mine enormously. My sister, on the other hand, said it was all she could do to chew, then swallow the stuff.
During my culinary school externship at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco, I noticed the pomegranate molasses was always in the pantry, used for a particular larder item that we’re going to make this week: muhammara, roasted red bell pepper dip. I was on muhammara duty there one day when we ran out of the pomegranate molasses. It was a big deal, a very big deal, because they sell a LOT of muhammara and it has to, HAS to taste the same every time. There just aren’t good flavor substitutes for pomegranate molasses—it has a flavor all its own, so when it’s called for, you really don’t want to leave it out or have to compensate with a lemon-honey or some other inferior substitute.
Here we were in the heart of San Francisco, one of the world’s culinary epicenters, and when the restaurant runs out of pomegranate molasses, you can’t do as you would in Lansing, Michigan and just run out and get a bottle. It’s not often you get to brag about a Lansing culinary opportunity over a San Francisco one, so there you go.
You can in fact make pomegranate molasses from a combination of 4 cups pomegranate juice, ½ cup sugar, and ¼ cup lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook it down to a very thick molasses-like syrup, which can take a couple of hours. I like to buy mine imported from Lebanon, either the Cortas brand you can buy around the corner here or as a special treat (go ahead) from Mymoune, where the products are so perfect and gorgeous and made by two sisters on their family farm in Lebanon. Use it as we will this week in our red pepper dip, as well as in marinades for all kinds of meats. I doubt you’ll run out of a bottle very quickly, so you shouldn’t find yourself needing to figure out a substitute unless you become addicted to the dibs-tahini dessert. Which I also doubt.