Some think a good waiter is someone who sneaks an extra shrimp into your cocktail. Me, I prefer a waiter who gives away the chef’s secrets.
I got this recipephany many years ago from a waiter at Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill, an elegant Persian restaurant near John Kerry’s townhouse on Louisburg Square. It was my Dad’s birthday, when the kids were home and my folks could still negotiate at least some of the steep walk to the door.
We started with this appetizer called zaitun-e parwardeh. It mesmerized me so much that—sort of like the Men in Black’s Neuralizer—it wiped out my entire memory of the rest of the meal. Sweet, tart, salty, and crunchy, it had an exotic, tangy flavor I couldn’t pin down.
When I asked the waiter what was in it, he disappeared, then returned from the kitchen to reveal the secret ingredient: pomegranate molasses.
I did my best to reconstruct the salad, although I can’t claim to match the restaurant’s version. I am happy with the outcome, though, and am proud that it was one of my recipes that our friend Gary Isaacson, an admirable chef, liked to make.
Although distinctly Persian, it seems like a not-so-distant cousin of my Mom’s choroses, the ritual Passover treat made from walnuts, honey, chopped apple, cinnamon, and wine.
More like a thick syrup, pomegranate molasses has a regal, deep red hue and gleams with Disney-like sparkle. It’s also bursting with antioxidants. I get mine at our neighborhood Indian store, and you can find it at Arax in Watertown, or other international grocers. It’s my Middle Eastern version of hoisin sauce, and has become essential in baba ghanoush.
Feel free to play with the proportions. Prepare a little ahead of time, even a day early, so the flavors can blend. And see if your guests can guess the secret ingredient.
Persian Green Olive and Walnut Salad
Modify freely to suit your taste.
- 8 ounces green olives, pitted and broken into pieces
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 4 scallions, sliced
- 1/4 cup flat parsley, chopped
- Dash of cayenne or tabasco (optional)
- 3 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (add it a tablespoon at a time so you can adjust to your taste)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Superfine sugar (optional, if it tastes too tart)
- Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
Mix. Refrigerate. Add more pomegranate molasses at the last minute if it needs an extra kick. Serve with pita triangles, flatbread, crackers, etc.