Elephant Ears and Pomegranate Soup

Welcome to the February/March round of Cook the Books.  Simona from briciole is hosting.  You can read her announcement post here.

Simona chose Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran.    Three young women escape pre-revolutionary Iran and finally find a home in Ireland.   Along the way we meet the eccentric and quirky villagers of Ballinacroagh as well as learning about their past lives in Iran.

I love the colors of the cover.

Marjan is the oldest and has taken over the roll of mothering her two younger sisters.  She is the chef of the Babylon Cafe, which they open without much experience but with high expectations in Ballinacroagh.

Bahar, the middle sister, is a trained nurse but now helps out in the cafe (in between debilitating migraines).   She is my least favorite of the three.

Layla is the youngest, just fifteen, and is full of optimism.

They are welcomed by a few of the villages because of the wonderful smells and exotic tastes coming out of the Babylon Cafe.  Throughout, they must dodge the dowager gossipers and the town bully and kingpin, Thomas McGuire.

The novel is a quick read and there’s a bit of magical realism hinted at in the first part of the book—Layla’s birth, Marjan’s ingredients, etc.

Marjan worked her magic over both men and women in a more practical, yet equally intriguing manner. Through her recipes, Marjan was able to encourage people toward accomplishments that they had previously thought impossible; one taste of her food and most would not only start dreaming but actually contemplate doing.  (78)

I think the book would have benefited from expanding on the magical themes.

I did enjoy reading about the characters in this village.  While they became close to caricatures, I think Mehran dodges pairing them in a too ridiculous light.   One does have to grin when the local shopkeeper thinks a leprechaun is “borrowing” beer from the coolers, though.   As the novel is set in the 80s, I enjoyed some of the references, especially Thomas McGuire’s fascination with dying disco.

The amount of food in this book is staggering.   I usually keep a pretty darn comprehensive list of foods for the Cook the Book selections.  I just didn’t have enough paper to do so.  There’s so many herbs and spices, Persian food, Italian food and Irish food, I just couldn’t keep up.


Each chapter begins with a recipe that plays some part in the plot that follows.   Recipes include dolmeh, red lentil soup, baklava, dugh yogurt drink, abgusht,  elephant ears, lavash, torshichelowfesenjoon, and of course, pomegranate soup.  There’s also a migraine remedy (nutmeg, cardamom, cloves).

I really wanted to try the red lentil soup (that lead so many people into the cafe) or the pomegranate soup of the title.   I had, however, about over-souped The Hubs recently so I decided on a sweeter recipe:  Elephant Ears.

I slightly adapted Mehran’s recipe by only adding 1 teaspoon of rosewater (not a quarter cup) and I had to decrease the amount of flour.  (I am not a rosewater fan, and even 1 teaspoon was a little much for us.  I can’t imagine 1/4 cup!)

The result?  They were interesting.  I did not roll mine thin enough so they were more doughy (read donut) than a thinly fried treat.  We did enjoy the flavor (but, again, the rosewater became more pronounced a day later).

Elephant Ears

Marsha Mehran (with a few changes—see above)


  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 t. rosewater
  • 1/2 t. ground cardamom
  • 3 c. flour
  • 6 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon


  1. Beat egg in a bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk in milk, sugar, water, rosewater, and cardamom.
  2. Slowly mix in flour using the dough hook attachment until a dough ball forms.
  3. Roll out until paper-thin. Use a large round cookie cutter (about 3 1/2″). Pinch the center of the circle with your thumb and forefinger to form a bow. Set aside on a floured linen towel (or parchment paper).
  4. Heat oil in a deep pan. Fry each ear for 1 minute. Lay pastries on paper towels to cool. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture

Yield: 2-2 1/2 dozen


I would recommend this book to friends (and will).  It would make a great beach read (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Mehran’s writing style is descriptive and sometimes romantic. (I mean that in a good way.)

If you would like to join our merry band of culinary readers, you still have time to join up.   The deadline for this round is March 31.  Anyone and everyone is welcome.   For more information, click here.

I’m linking up with Novel Food

and Foodies Read.


Cook the Books is beginning the new rotation in April.   Deb from Kahakai Kitchen is starting us off with Hippie Food  by Jonathan Kauffman.    Check out all of our new selections here.

22 comments to Elephant Ears and Pomegranate Soup

  • I always thought elephant ears were made with puff pastry…those are different and so cute too. Wish I could taste one now 🙂

  • Mae

    I read that quite a while back. It’s interesting that you didn’t find the recipe really usable as written. I agree that rosewater is overpowering!

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    • I really can’t imagine 1/4 c. I am wondering if my small bottle of rose water is a concentrated kind and the recipe calls for a more traditional rose water. ????

  • Liz

    Sounds like a fun read! I agree about the rosewater, definitely not a favorite flavor of mine, either. I have a huge bottle that I purchased for a Dorie Greenspan recipe. I imagine I cut back the amount, too!

    • I love the smell of it. Part of the reason is that I think it smells like an elderly woman’s perfume in an overly strong sense. 🙂

  • So glad you made the Elephant Ears as they were mentioned a number of times in the book, and I did wonder how they would look and taste. I got some rose water for a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe and haven’t used it yet. Imagined though that the flavor would be more delicate and subtle? Guess not, but still 1/4 cup!!?

    • I know, right? Again, I am wondering if I had a more concentrated bottle. The only other time I used rose water it was for an ice cream for another CTB book, Funny in Farsi. It included 1/2 T. but I don’t remember it being too overpowering. I served it with a chocolate cake, so that helped. 🙂

  • I cannot imagine using a quarter cup of rose water either! Great review of the book, and the recipe 🙂

  • I thought that was a huge amount of rosewater too. I’m glad you made a recipe from the novel.

  • Sounds like an interesting book. And those elephant ears look really neat. And both of those soups sound interesting. I didn’t even know it was possible to be over-souped! 🙂

    • They were fun to make and I’m glad they visually turned out. I’m with you on the soup issue. Can’t ever have too much.

  • I like the name of this recipe and I am glad you chose it for your post: it is mentioned several times in the novel as being a favorite treat of many a customer. Thank you so much for your contribution to Cook the Book and Novel Food 🙂

    • I was excited to make them because of what you mentioned—that so many were drawn in by these treats and loved them. I’m sure I had some issues with the frying. They were interesting but I doubt I make them again.

  • I do like the sound of the elephant ears, but I do think that maybe you could be right about rosewater versus rosewater extract because 1/4 cup would be very strong!

  • Your elephant ears look wonderful! Good call to reduce the amount of rose water. I always think that rose water is lovely but only if it’s hint of rose water.

    We always add rose water to biryani just before serving – but nowhere near 4 Tablespoons for a giant pot of rice. Maybe the recipe testers’ rosewater isn’t very potent, so that’s why the recipe calls for so much?

    I applaud you for being able to read the book. It was probably just me, but I could not get into it!

    • I did enjoy the book. Certain areas more than others. Thought it was a fun read but I am passing it along. (If I love a book, I hoard it forever.)

  • I read the same book and enjoy that you made the elephant ears, which are a favorite treat of mine regardless of the source. Thanks for sharing!