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December, 2010

Healthy Holidays

By Nancy Eisman

The holidays are the perfect time to learn about and enjoy pomegranates, possibly the oldest fruit in history that is still enjoyed today.

Used as a motif in Christian religious decorations and paintings, cited in both the Jewish Book of Exodus and the Book of Kings, and symbolically used in mythology and cultures too numerous to mention, certain scholars believe that the pomegranate was the real forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Native to Persia and Western Himalaya, and cultivated for thousands of years in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and areas of the Mediterranean, pomegranates were first introduced into California by Spanish settlers in the late 1700’s. Now commercially grown in both California and Arizona, pomegranates are on the verge of super popularity, and you only have to try them once to know why. Then it certainly won’t surprise you to learn that the most common variety now grown is called “Wonderful”.

The globe-shaped, crown-topped pomegranate is covered with reddish-pink faux leather skin and filled with glistening ruby red arils, the seed casings where the fruit’s unique and addictive sweet tartness is housed. Yes, pomegranates are messy, but some careful handwork with only a paring knife to assist is all you need to make these jewel-like, juicy arils yours. Holding the pomegranate over a bowl, score with the knife, being careful not to crush the arils, remove sections of skin and the thin white membrane, and then gently give the arils a nudge so they drop into the bowl. Water in the bowl has been known to help separate the arils from any remaining membrane so see if this works better for you. For those of you who’d rather leave this process to the professionals, pomegranate arils are now available in supermarkets throughout the year.

pomegranate arils
December is the height of availability of gorgeous, giant sized fresh pomegranates, so there is no better time than now to pick them up from the local markets and include them in some of your holiday recipes. The beautiful color will be your inspiration and the incredible flavor will be a delicious bonus in many appetizers, dressings, sauces, marinades, pilafs and grain salads, glazes, and a variety of desserts, both as ingredient and garnish. I don’t even need to tell you that pomegranates are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. But since I just did, here’s my new favorite way to start the day – with a pomegranate parfait. A mixture of cereal, fruit, yogurt, and more, use my recipe as a guide to a healthy and filling head start to each day of this holiday season. Switch out the cereal for some granola, use different fruits depending on what’s on hand, and substitute sunflower for pumpkin seeds or add a few nuts, etc., etc., but always include the pomegranate arils and the crystallized ginger because they’re key to this fantastic combination of fiber and flavor.

Pomegranate Parfait du Jour

½ cup Twigs cereal (or your favorite high-fiber brand)
½ cup fresh grapes
1 ½ tablespoons toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
4 tablespoons plain, low-fat yogurt (gelatin-free)
1 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger
1 ½ tablespoons pomegranate arils

In a parfait glass or your favorite cereal bowl place the ingredients in the order listed above. Get yourself a spoon and dig in. Yum!