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Rummaniyeh | Aubergine, Lentil, Pomegranate

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil and Eggplant Stew

Last week Cyclone Debbie signalled an abrupt end to summer. The storm hit North Queensland as a category 4 tropical cyclone, devastating Bowen, Ayr, and the popular tourist destinations of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. The force of the wind soon reduced, but the storm continued a slow path south, dumping such a quantity of heavy rain that widespread flooding was experienced across south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales. It was a dramatic, intense week and for many people it’s not over yet; some areas are still flooded, and where the waters are receding the clean up now begins.

Persian red lentils for rummaniyeh

I was off work on Wednesday while Debbie was ravaging  North Queensland. Down in Brisbane we didn’t experience the torrential rain until the next day, but even so, the weather was dark and foreboding (the photos give a good sense of what the natural light was like). At such times I only wish to be in my cosy kitchen and so I made Rummaniyeh, a Palestinian stew of lentils boiled together with aubergine (eggplant). This might not sound appetising but I can assure that it is delicious. The aubergine becomes silken and savoury, providing a luscious textural contrast to the lentils, which retain a little roughness. The stew is spiced with ground cumin and fried garlic, and the whole thing is lifted with the addition of tart pomegranate molasses and lemon juice. In fact, Rumman means pomegranate, so this dish literally means “pomegranatey”. This is emphasised by the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds sprinkled over the top like little jewels.

Lentils, aubergine, pomegrante, lemon, cumin and parsley

This was the second time I had made the recipe. The first time was a complete disaster, probably caused by a misprint in the original source, which calls for 150ml pomegranate molasses. This rendered the dish inedible due to mouth-puckering sourness, so the second time around I reduced the quantity to a mere two tablespoons (30ml). I’m glad I persisted because at this quantity (with increased aubergine and slightly less salt), it made perfect sense. The stew is light, fresh and comforting, with a flavour so mesmerising that it is difficult to believe that it’s made with such humble ingredients.

Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew

On gloomy Wednesday my freshly cooked Rummaniyeh went down so well with a hunk of flatbread and a glass of red wine. On stormy Thursday, when we were sent home from the office at 9am due to safety concerns, another bowl warmed my stomach as I monitored newscasts and waited to hear that friends and colleagues were safe. It was hardly chilly during the Cyclone (in fact Brisbane continued to steam with the increased humidity) but Rummaniyeh  was the ideal psychological fit; a nourishing dish for unsettled times, for stormy days, the waning sun and the promise of cold days ahead.

Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew with Pomegranate

A few notes for the cook: choose lentils that will hold their shape somewhat after cooking. I was able to find Persian red lentils at my local deli, but brown or green lentils should also work. You don’t need to soak the lentils before cooking, but I like to do this anyway (for 3-4 hours) to help increase their digestibility. Don’t be tempted to skip the pomegranate seeds. Yes they are ridiculously over-priced, but these ruby nuggets provide little bursts of juicy tartness that elevate the dish from good to incredible. Good olive oil drizzled generously over the top is another key to the utter deliciousness of this stew. The stew is traditionally served with taboon or khubez bread, neither of which are readily available where I live. I used Lebanese flatbread instead and one day I might try this recipe for taboon bread.

My very best wishes to everyone in Queensland and New South Wales as the clean up from Debbie begins. If you would like to support Queensland communities impacted by the Cyclone, you can donate here.

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil & Aubergine Stew

Adapted from Joudie Kalla via The Guardian

250g Persian red lentils or brown or green lentils
1 Tbsp ground cumin
600ml water
2 medium aubergine, peeled and cubed into 1-2cm dice
2-3 tsp salt (the original recipe calls for 3 tsp (i.e. 1 Tbsp) but I prefer it a little less salty)
50ml olive oil
4–6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 Tbsp cornflour

To serve:
1 pomegranate
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Good extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flatbread (Taboon or khubez is traditional; Lebanese or pita are more available)

Wash the lentils well using the technique described here, then soak them for a few hours if you wish.

When ready to cook, put the clean/drained lentils in a saucepan along with the cumin and water. Cover and bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped aubergine and two teaspoons of salt, then leave to simmer for another 25 minutes.

While the lentils and vegetables cook, chop the garlic and then heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the hot oil and cook for a few minutes until it begins to turn golden. Pour the oil and garlic into a small bowl and set aside to cool.

When the lentils and aubergine have cooked for 25 minutes, add the fried garlic and pomegranate molasses, stir through and cook for another 5 minutes. In a small bowl mix the cornflour with the juice of one lemon and then add to the lentils. Stir through until the sauce has thickened. Taste the lentils. If you would like a more sour flavour, add the juice of the second lemon. Adjust the salt at this time too, adding up to a further teaspoon until the flavour tastes right to you.

Ladle the lentils into a serving dish and drizzle generously with extra-virgin olive oil. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by slicing it in half, then holding each half upside down as you slap the outside with a wooden spoon. The seeds should release and rain down onto the awaiting lentils (remove any bits of white pith that become detached). Scatter over the chopped parsley and eat with hot flatbread of your choice.

23 Comments

  1. Hi Chez, this recipe looks fantastic. Eggplant is the bomb. I hope your Easter is going well, it’s pretty chill in Auckland at the moment!

    • I love eggplant too, which is why I just had to change the original recipe and add extra – it’s so good in this recipe! Easter is very chilled for us, just hanging at home and catching up with friends – perfect!

  2. Looks good. From experience (and Persian husband) always soak lentils esp if pregnant or breastfeeding. Miss also, used to live there…floods look terrible

    • That’s very interesting. I’ve been influenced by blogs that advocate soaking all legumes, grains and nuts before cooking to increase the digestibility and availability of nutrients. I didn’t realise that it was a traditional practice in some cultures. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. oh this looks hearty and warming!
    i’m sorry to hear about the weather woes you’ve been experiencing, how scary. here’s to fairer weather in the coming days.

    • Australia is a land of extremes in terms of weather – prone to drought, fire, cyclones and flooding. But we don’t get the extreme cold and blizzards that you get in the US, or the earthquakes that we get back home in New Zealand. My NZ friends tell me that Debbie has now reached NZ. It’s not a cyclone anymore, but there is still a lot of rain to fall… Hope that you are enjoying the warming weather on your side of the world!

  4. That looks amazing. When we get aubergines later in the year, I will definitely try it. Might have to buy a pomegranate though as it will take years for the trees I planted to produce anything.

    • You have pomegranate trees too? Even if they’re not fruiting yet I am still in awe. How romantic 😊 let me know if you do try it. I’m curious to know if others find it as addictive as I do.

  5. I am back..your comment prompted me and what a beautiful sounding recipe…we have lots of pomegranates here and this sounds so lovely I think I will have to try it…..My friend lives in The Whitsundays and was hit quite badly by Debbie she caused some damage on her visit for many.I an pleased that you are dry where you are 🙂

    • I hope that your friend is ok, the Whitsundays were right in the main path of the Cyclone. A friend of mine was holidaying on Hamilton Island with her family and wasn’t able to leave. They had to bunk down in the hotel and it was a few days before they were shipped off to fly back home. Not much fun with two small children. Let me know if you try the recipe. I’m jealous of your pomegranate supply!

      • Yes Pat is ok but they were housebound until a tree could be moved but a few houses around hers were badly damaged her house was ok and it’s quite old but solidly built I guess but the garden was really damaged and her sons garden who passed away last year was what she was most upset by.I am pleased your friends were ok..it must have been scary for them. Yes I will..the pomegranates are not ripe yet. But I have plenty of other fruits starting to ripen so lots to be going on with 🙂

      • Wow that must have been so scary for your friends too. I’m glad that her house is ok but that is very sad about her son’s garden. Let’s hope that she can find the energy to rebuild it in time.

      • aI hope so too she has the additional worry that her daughter is terminally ill and given months I really cannot imagine how she feels I just witter on and I try to talk about normal things but inside I am so sad for her and I think Debbie was the last straw for her..

      • That is terrible, I really feel for her. You could try to encourage her to contact counselling support. I found this article https://www.whitsundaytimes.com.au/news/dont-wait-until-crisis-for-counselling/3163316/ about a psychologist on the Whitsundays who is offering free sessions. Living through a disaster and coping with the clean up is difficult enough without all of the serious pressures and sadness that your friend is experiencing. I don’t mean to be pushy, but if you are that worried, then I would say that it’s really important for her to seek some support. My thoughts are with you both xx

  6. This certainly makes my ‘must try list’! When describing food, the words ‘humble’ and ‘simple’ imply to me that the food is nourishing and tasty. Our celebrity foody driven world often seems to equate complexity with being the best. But when you have good fresh produce to hand ( as we do here in Brissie), my go-to recipes are like this one …. good peasant food. Fortunately I saved some pomegranate seeds to the freezer when they were in season!

    • Aren’t you clever! When are they in season? I thought that they were autumn fruit but they are very expensive right now. How long do they last in the freezer? I’m with you and simple dishes – complexity is for chefs and their armies of poorly paid staff who do all the prep and clean up 😉

    • Thank you! We’re pretty dry where we are, but I really feel for Lismore (cleaning up) and Rockhampton (still to flood) today. The scale of damage so far is quite incredible.

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