I wasn’t especially close to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather died when I was really young and my dad’s parents lived far away so we saw them rarely. The only grandparent I saw fairly often was my maternal grandmother. For as long as I can remember, she lived in a little house behind my aunt’s house. She was a refugee, having lost her home in the war of 74, and a widow. We saw her a few times a year when we would go and visit.
My grandmother looked like a typical old Greek woman from the movies. Always dressed in black (perpetually in mourning for her husband, as old customs required), her hair always covered in a large black headscarf. It was a source of great mystery to me, her hair, when I was little. The couple of times I caught a glimpse of her without the headscarf, I could see a torrent of white hair cascading down her black-clad back. It seemed magical somehow.
I have few memories of the times I spent with her. I remember that my sister and I, influenced by American movies and cartoons we watched on TV, always wanted her to tell us stories and fairytales. When she would tell us that she didn’t know any stories (she was a farmer’s wife who raised nine children in hard, village conditions) we would explain to her that she must, she was a grandmother after all, and all grandmothers know all kinds of fables. Inevitably, she would give in and tell us the same one or two stories she knew, none of which satisfied our hunger for fantastical beings. One of those stories involved a cockroach who convinced a cow to let it ride on its back to cross a muddy field, but then somehow fell in the deep impression that the cow’s hoof left in the mud, at which point the cow, unaware of the cockroach’s fall, started to pee, filling the impression with pee and drowning the unfortunate cockroach to death.
Yeah, she wasn’t kidding when she said that she really didn’t know any fairytales.
One fond memory I have with her involves pomegranates. There was a small pomegranate tree growing in her front yard and when the fruit was ripe, she would pick one and painstakingly peel and deseed it for us. My sister and I loved receiving our small bowls filled with the sweet-tart fuchsia-colored seeds, eating them with a spoon, feeling their juices burst in our mouths, always wary of eating too many lest they make us constipated as the adults always warned us.
Pomegranates always make me think of my grandmother. I didn’t often eat them, however, because I hated the process of picking the tiny seeds from their intricate web of pith. It was only recently that I discovered a much easier way to deseed a pomegranate by whacking it with a wooden spoon. So, when I saw this recipe for a lamb stir-fry with pomegranate and yogurt in Bon Appétit, I bought a pomegranate and tried it. It turned out to be fantastic. The lamb is intensely fragrant with cumin and coriander, while the yogurt and pomegranate add a buoyant and sweet coolness to the dish.
Lamb Stir-Fry with Pomegranate and Yogurt – Adapted from Bon Appétit
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, thinly sliced against the grain
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon water
zest from half a lemon, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, cut into ½” wedges
½ cup water
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
Fresh oregano and mint leaves (for serving)
In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and 1½ Tbsp. oil in a large bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and let it marinade in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.
Whisk yogurt, lemon zest, and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook lamb (do not overcrowd in pan), tossing occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes per batch; transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Add onion to skillet and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown and soften, about 4 minutes. Add ½ cup water; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and water is almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to skillet and toss to combine.
Serve lamb topped with yogurt, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and herbs.