Pomegranates are just starting to appear at my local markets, and I couldn't be happier. They're fruit royalty. I love their intense but nuanced juice encased in ruby-like seed pods, and the majesty they bring to a braise, soup, or salad's flavor and texture.
Okay, so they're also as fussy as royalty. Pomegranates are expensive. Their nectar stains like beet juice. And if you're successfully able to crack one open and extricate the seeds without having them burst all over your shirt, you still run the risk of your fruit having gone off, as checking for over-ripeness is rather difficult. So even during pomegranate season I like to have anardana—dried pomegranate seeds—around.
How to Use Anardana
Anardana is used in Indian and Persian cuisine as a souring agent, much like sumac or amchoor. Slow air drying makes it more molasses-like than fresh pomegranate, so it adds depth of flavor as well as brightness. While other sour spices are best as finishing touches, anardana can enrich a sauce or braising liquid for as long as you like, and it only gets better with time. Slow cooked with chicken legs or lamb, the result is rich and profound.
Many versions of Persian fasenjan (chicken with walnut and pomegranate sauce) rely on anardana for the sauce's subtleties. When ground, it's perfect in chutneys, relishes, and spice rubs for meat and seafood, especially those that would benefit from the crunch of its interior seeds. I love it as a quick and easy way to bring new life to blander vegetables like potatoes and cauliflower: Just grind, then roast or steam. It's similar to pomegranate molasses, but its lower moisture content makes it the choice ingredient for jobs where a syrup would be out of place.
Anardana is magical with other fruits and wintry spices. Think orange peels, cinnamon, and the last of the season's plums. This is the stuff your marmalade has been waiting for. Its sun-dried flavor makes it a perfect match for nuts, though you may want to strain out the crunchy seeds as too much texture can be too much of a good thing.
How to Choose the Best Anardana
The best anardana specimens comes from wild pomegranates, though most are from commercial varieties. But unlike other spices, where source quality is one of the most important indicators of taste, anardana is more forgiving. It's essentially dried fruit, so even seeds from hum-drum pomegranates still carry plenty of flavor.
What you should really watch out for is texture. Anardana ranges from slightly pliant, like a gummy candy or a recently dried chile, to rock-hard. Softer seeds are juicier and more flavorful, though if all you can find are pebbly kinds, don't let that stop you. Some anardana is sold pre-ground, or in varying degrees of partially ground. Obviously whole seeds are best for longevity's sake, and unless you can find fine powder, you'll probably have to do some grinding at home anyway. Home grinders do have trouble with particularly tough kernels, so if you want a smooth sauce, you may want to strain out the anardana after long cooking. Or use a spice infuser that can be removed later.
Where to Find Anardana
Anardana is a less common spice in America, so it may be a little harder to find than most. But your local Indian grocery is still your best bet. Failing that, Amazon carries the ground seeds for considerably less than an equal amount of fresh pomegranate.