Pomegranate soup starts out like a classic chunky bean soup recipe, with browned onions, garlic, beans, and barley, all cooked in stock. But then all of a sudden, the ingredients screech off the familiar path into wild territory, with cumin, turmeric, dried mint, and most exotic, tart ruby pomegranate syrup, following one after the other into the pot. This is a vegetarian pomegranate soup, a deliciously unfancy Iranian dish that’s probably been around since the domestication of pomegranates.
Luckily, these days, you can find pomegranate molasses not only in Middle Eastern grocery stores, but in gourmet and natural markets as well. If you can’t find pomegranate molasses, you can always buy the juice, which is widely available, and cook it down into a syrup.
Whenever I cook with pomegranate molasses, I prefer to use brands that don’t contain sugar, because I like the pure taste of the fruit on its own and I prefer to control the amount of sweetener that gets added, but unsweetened molasses can be harder to come by. If you can’t find pomegranate in any form, a generous splash of lemon or lime will lift up the earthy flavors of beans and barley. To find dried mint, you will likely need to visit an Indian or Arabic market, or seek it out online; it’s a magical ingredient that imparts food with a savory herbal flavor, sweeter than parsley and more pronounced and fragrant than coriander.
Once you have all of the ingredients, this is an easy recipe. Like any hearty winter soup or stew, this dish gets better the longer it sits, so if possible, make it the day before serving.
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat and cook the onion for about 10 minutes until it starts to brown, stirring often. Add the garlic, beans, barley, beets, spices, and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir well with the cooked onions, then add the stock or water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours, until the beans and barley are tender.
While the soup is still simmering, stir in the dried mint and pomegranate molasses, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm topped with a splash of olive oil (if you like) and a dollop of yogurt, and a generous scattering of cilantro and pomegranate seeds.
I love how food connects us with different times, places, the environment, and each other. I'm the author of two cookbooks: The New Persian Kitchen, and Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life. Magpie Cookshop is my sustainable kitchen goods company.