Recently, a dear and too-long-no-see cousin (my pessar amoo to be exact) came for a visit to New York and after a day of expedition in the city thrilled us all by showing up with a foraged harvest of the beauties you see in the picture below. Leave it to an out-of-town explorer to unveil the secret delights of your city!
If you have to ask, “what the heck are these?” you are certainly not of Persian persuasion. If, however, when looking at this picture your mouth waters and you are all at once covetous, excited, and deeply curious as where this loot was found — you are almost certainly a hyphenated or sans-hyphen-Iranian in diaspora.
A popular summer fruit called zoghal akhteh in Iran, this berry-like fruit (dubbed “Cornelian Cherry” in the West) is rarely if ever eaten in the U.S. — and then, mostly by the birds! Unless foraged by Iranian, Russian, Turkish, or Eastern European enthusiasts who have since the ancient times enjoyed its goodness.
Cornelian Cherry’s taste is a combination of tart and floral – hard to describe. The less ripe it is, the harder the flesh and more astringent the flavor, but when dark red and ripe, it is more sweetly floral than tart and has a soft mushy texture.
In Iran, zoghal akhteh is mostly enjoyed as a fresh fruit – sometimes sprinkled with salt; and it is also sold dried (tasting like a tangy combination of raisins and cranberry) which is a very popular snack to munch on. Zoghal akhteh is also preserved and turned into sharbat (floral or fruit-based Persian syrups that are diluted with ice cold water to make fabulous summertime drinks) and moraba (jam) and marmalade and torshi (pickles.)
The zoghal akhteh torshi or pickle is exceedingly simple to prepare and does not require a recipe so much as an assemblage direction:
- Fill a sterilized jar 3/4th of the way with berries of (ideally) the same size, color, firmness and ripeness. (Trick: if yours are unripe, puncture berries a few times with a toothpick, they will soften when marinating in vinegar.) Add a pinch of dried mint (optional) and fill with your pickling vinegar of choice. (The plain old Heinz white vinegar I used works fine, although it’s a tad too harsh for my taste.) I added a very small clove of garlic as well, but in hindsight advise against its use, as even that little amount of garlic dominated and diminished the aroma of the Cornelian cherry.
- Seal and store in a cool dark place. Best after 1-2 weeks but it can also be enjoyed within a day. Makes a good sidekick for rich & robust meals or sandwiches. (Note: Cornelian cherry has a good sized pit. Exercise caution and contain exuberance when enjoying the pickle.]
With the remainder of my beautiful bounty of zoghal akhteh, I made a divine bottle of sharbat; several jars of meh-but-not-too-bad moraba aka jam; and a batch of pretty, pink, and delicious marmalade. Respective recipes to follow in separate posts later this week, so keep your eyes peeled.