By Dennis Linden
For me, a fresh pomegranate brings back childhood memories of stained fingers and lots of ruby red blotches on white T-shirts long before tie-dying was fashionable. As an adult this very ancient fruit has transitioned deliciously from a messy hand-fruit to an ingredient that leads to a culinary adventure into the exotic flavors of the Middle East. A quick Internet search of “pomegranate recipes” will serve up dishes from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the mountains of northern India--all places where the fruit has been a staple in kitchens for centuries.
It is not surprising that the pomegranate
has seeped into the cuisines of some of the oldest cultures in the world. The fruit was well-suited for this ancient region with its shell-like leathery skin that made transporting it over the harsh terrain practical even using the most primitive of methods like carts pulled by beasts of burden. So a fruit with its own natural shock-proof container that held a flavorful and nutritious juice was bound to be popular in this rugged part of the planet.
While the origin of the pomegranate can be traced to one of most remote parts of the globe, the entire commercial crop marketed in this country is produced in California's San Joaquin Valley. The root stock was first planted in the state by those busy Spanish Mission Jesuits in 1769. The fruit will keep in a home refrigerator for up to three months, or in a cool, dark unrefrigerated place for up to a month! In fact, the flavor improves in storage as it turns sweeter with age. The ruby colored juice sacs that we refer to as seeds are called “arils”. There are over 500 arils in each pomegranate regardless of size.
In spite of my own childhood experiences, working with pomegranates can be done without fear of introducing a new color scheme to a favorite piece of clothing. To remove the arils just follow this simple procedure:
- Cut the crown end of the pomegranate off.
- Using a sharp-pointed knife, lightly score the skin from top to bottom in quarters.
- Immerse the whole fruit in a deep bowl of cold water and soak for two minutes.
- Then hold it under water while breaking the sections apart to eliminate splatter.
- Now separate the seeds from the rind and membrane with your fingers.
- The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, while the rest will float.
- Remove and discard all the floating stuff, drain and pat the seeds dry.
Of course, an even easier method of getting to the juicy seeds of this tasty fruit involves a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a tub or two of Melissa’s Pomegranate Arils
. Each tub contains 8 ounces of seeds that are ready to use without the hassle of the aforementioned water-dunking method. For 1 cup of juice, blend 1½ to 2 cups of arils in a blender or food processor until liquefied, then pour mixture through a small meshed strainer or cheesecloth-lined sieve.
Pomegranate juice is a very versatile component with a rich, fruity, sweet tart flavor. It can be used to make thick syrup reductions for sauces and marinades. Just bring two cups of juice to a boil into a medium saucepan, reduce heat to a low flame, then simmer for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally until the juice is reduced by half. It should be thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and the reduction will thicken even more as it cools. The syrup has a slightly stronger flavor than uncooked juice and, amazingly, can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to six months!
So, now that you have extracted or bought the arils, how can they be used in your own kitchen? Easy peasy…just click on any of delicious pomegranate recipes listed below, created by Melissa’s Corporate Chefs team. No fuss, no muss – though it still might be a good idea to wear an apron!