Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging.  And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them.  I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients.  This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well.  This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co.  I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.

I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week.  It’s:

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets

(serves 4)

Marinade

  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 green chilli, sliced
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 200g bulgar wheat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
  • 75g currants
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
  • 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

  • Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over.  Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate.  You can do this overnight.
  • Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
  • Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
  • Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
  • Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
  • Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
  • Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds

 

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Chocolate and Gout

 

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I’m hoping the first part of the title of this post drew you in enough for you not to be put off by the second part.

I’ve always loved chocolate: the taste of it and the texture; and the undoubted cocoa solids and caffeine-induced hit it gives.  In the past, to prove to myself that I have a modicum of willpower and I’m not a complete chocoholic, I’ve given it up for Lent.

Today (Easter Sunday) I ate chocolate for the first time in several weeks, since before the start of Lent in fact.  Tomorrow I will be giving it up again, but for health reasons.  I’ve been getting joint pain for quite a few years now.  My orthopaedic surgeon husband says I have osteoarthritis and that I’ve inherited this from my father and grandmother.  They never spoke of it, but with hindsight it was obvious they suffered from it too.  My father attributed any aches and pains of his to rugby injuries which had never been properly treated, but that was probably only part of the story.

In recent years my husband has been sending an increasing number of his patients, who report to him with knee pain and a history of other joint problems, for blood tests to ascertain their uric acid levels.  If levels with a single test are high it means that the patient has been suffering from episodes of gout.

Gout is inflammation of joints and soft tissues due to crystallisation of uric acid within a joint that has been predisposed to this deposition by previous injury.  His new secretary, who used to work in General Practice, cannot believe how frequently he spots it in his patients.

It’s very useful being married to a doctor but, quite rightly, they do not like to treat family members.  The way it works in our family is: someone describes their ailment and my husband decides whether they need to a) see the GP, b) go to A&E or c) go directly to a colleague.  It means we probably spent a lot less time in GP waiting rooms when the children were small than most parents.  Anyway, having had so many patients come back with a positive test for gout, my husband suggested that I ask my GP to order a blood test for me, because if my uric acid levels were high, or near the upper limit of normal, something could be done about it and it would reduce the episodes of pain I’m experiencing in my hands and feet.

The blood test came back as “normal” but my levels were at the upper end of the range and my husband said it would only take one meal of high purine foods to tip me over the edge.

Purines from foods and tissue turnover are the precursor of uric acid which some people are unable to excrete, especially when exposed to our rich Western diet.

He gave me a very useful chart listing almost every food you can think of with those high in purines at the top.  At the very top of the chart the substance with by far the highest purine levels was theobromine, which is found in cocoa.  I jokingly said to my husband that in that case I’d give up chocolate and solve the problem.  To my surprise he agreed.  So I stopped eating chocolate overnight and after six weeks went back for another blood test and, to my astonishment, my uric acid levels had dropped considerably.  My symptoms haven’t changed but my husband says that will take at least 6-12 months.

I have written this post to raise awareness.  Not very much appears to be known about gout, but 1 in 40 of us have it and many suffer without a confirmed diagnosis.  It seems to affect young men and post menopausal women.  My GP did not think it necessary to test my uric acid levels but was happy to do it when asked.

I will miss chocolate, but will allow myself a small amount from time to time.  It seemed easier to give it up than to have to think about purines every time I cook a meal for the family.

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