One Ingredient: Pomegranates
by Julie Van Rosendaal
With a layer of thin, leathery, burgundy skin enclosing hundreds of tiny drupelets of brilliant red juice, pomegranates have the regality of a fruit that has made repeated appearances in Renaissance paintings, and has innards capable of reenacting a scene from Friday the 13th. They can be awkward and messy, even when you know how to handle them, but with a sweet-tart flavour and glorious colour, they’re well worth the effort while they’re available – usually between October and February.
Pomegranate arils – the tiny seeds suspended in juicy teardrops inside – are munchable on their own (the seeds they contain are perfectly edible), and add a burst of tangy colour to just about any salad. You can buy them by the plastic con- tainer, but their natural packaging is far more satisfying, and environmentally friendly. To access the delicate arils yourself, the most common method is to score the fruit around its equator with a knife and break it open, then hold each half upside-down over a bowl and smack it with a wooden spoon to release the seeds. Some find it easier to cut pomegranates lengthwise into wedges, slicing gently along each natural ridge, then breaking the fruit apart. If you have difficulty separating the arils from the papery white pulp, break the pieces open into a sink or bowl of water and separate the seeds with your fingers; the arils will sink, the membranes float.
If you want to forego harvesting the seeds yourself, you can go straight for bottled juice or pomegranate molasses, a thick, tangy syrup that’s common in Middle East- ern dishes and is becoming increasingly mainstream and easy to find at grocery stores. To make your own juice, pulse the arils a few times in a blender or food processor, just enough to break them apart, then pour through a strainer or sieve.
To make your own pomegranate molasses, simmer 3 cups pomegranate juice with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice until it reduces to the consistency of syrup. Refrigerate for up to a month.
Besides its beauty and versatility, pomegranates are also bundles of antioxidants, believed to lower cholesterol and play a role in the prevention of heart disease and some cancers - and if you eat the whole seeds, you’ll get a healthy boost of fibre, too.
Lamb Kebabs with Pomegranate Molasses and Feta
Pomegranate adds a balancing acidity to rich lamb; grill these kebabs or roast them in the oven, and serve with warm pita and a drizzle
of plain yogurt. You’ll need about 8 bamboo skewers for this.
1 lb. ground lamb
1/3 c. crumbled feta
2 T. pomegranate molasses, plus extra
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 t. chopped fresh oregano or rosemary
(or 1/2 t. dried)
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. salt
olive oil (optional)
In a medium bowl, blend the lamb, feta, pomegranate molasses, garlic, oregano, cumin and salt with your hands just until combined. Soak about 8 bamboo skewers for 10 minutes or so, then take a handful of the meat mixture and shape it around one end, leaving the dull end as a handle.
Preheat your grill or broiler to medium-high and, if you like, brush the kebabs with some olive oil. Grill or broil for about 5 minutes, rotating as necessary and brushing with more pomegranate molasses, until char-marked and just cooked through. (If the handles of your bamboo skewers are burning, wrap them loosely in foil or move them to the edge of the grill so that they stick out from under the lid.) Makes about 8 kebabs.
Grilled Calamari with Avocado and Pomegranates
Fresh calamari cooks in minutes on a hot grill, and makes a lighter, smokier alternative to the usual fried calamari. Make sure you don’t overcook the squid, or it’ll get tough.
1/2 lb. squid tubes (calamari)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 t. crushed dried red chile flakes
1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced
fresh mint or Italian parsley
Rinse the squid tubes and slide a knife in lengthwise, the blade fitting into the flat tube. Slice crosswise with another knife – the knife inside will prevent you from cutting all the way through, so that it’s sliced into rings on one side, intact on the other. Put all the pieces in a bowl, cover with olive oil, add the garlic, chile flakes and a big pinch of salt, stir and refrigerate for about an hour.
Preheat the grill to high and grill the tubes, turning often, for a minute or two, or until opaque and char-marked (don’t overcook). Transfer to a plate and top with avocado, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, scatter with pomegranate arils and chopped fresh mint or parsley. Serves 4.
Tangy pomegranate molasses is common in dressings for Middle Eastern salads like fattoush, made with crunchy romaine and toasted pitas.
2 fresh pitas
1-2 romaine hearts, chopped
2 baby cucumbers, chopped or cut into ribbons
2 c. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 small purple onion, thinly sliced
handful fresh cilantro, Italian parsley or mint
1/2 c. olive oil
3 T. pomegranate molasses
1 T. Dijon or grainy mustard
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. honey
1 small garlic clove, finely crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the pita with oil, sprinkle with salt and bake on a baking sheet for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden and toasted. Let cool, then break apart into chunks.
Arrange the romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, purple onion and cilantro in a shallow bowl or on a platter. Add the toasted pita. To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl or shake them in a jar. Drizzle over the salad and serve immediately. Serves 6.
Pomegranate Panna Cotta
Tart pomegranate syrup makes a surprising flavour (and colour) contrast to creamy
3 c. half & half or 18% coffee cream
1 pkg. (1 T.) plain gelatin
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 c. pomegranate juice
2 T. honey
a couple of strips orange zest (optional)
pomegranate arils for garnish
Pour about a cup of the cream into a medium pot and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Let it sit for about 5 minutes to let the gelatin soften.
Set the pot over medium heat and stir, without letting the cream boil, until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Add the rest of the cream and the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour the mixture into individual wine glasses, small dishes or ramekins and refrigerate until firm. Meanwhile, simmer the pomegranate juice, honey and orange zest over medium-high heat until it’s reduced by about three quarters, and has the consistency of runny syrup.
Refrigerate until well chilled.
Pour the chilled syrup over the panna cottas
before serving, and top with a few arils.
Read One Ingredient in the digital issue of City Palate.