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December, 2009

Pomegranates

By Dennis Linden

For me, the fresh pomegranate has always been a childhood memory of stained fingers and, to the chagrin of my mother, a lot of ruby red blotches on my white T-shirts before tie-dying was fashionable
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Pomegranate Arils
For many, the pomegranate is a fruit of their youth that they have not tasted in years. However, now that we are all grown up, try approaching this very ancient fruit as an ingredient that can be used to explore cooking with some of the exotic flavors of the Middle East. An Internet search for pomegranate dishes will serve up recipes from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the mountainous regions of northern India, where the fruit has been a staple in kitchens for centuries. Because it is a tough fruit, with a leathery skin that holds a flavorful and nutritional juice, which could be easily transported over the harsh terrain of the region, the pomegranate has seeped into the cuisines of some of the oldest cultures in the world.

POM FACTS: While the origin of the pomegranate can be traced to a rather remote part of the planet, the entire commercial crop marketed in this country is grown in California's San Joaquin Valley. The root stock was first planted in the state by those busy Spanish Jesuits in 1769. The fruit keeps in the refrigerator for up to three months, or in a cool, dark, unrefrigerated place for up to a month and, in fact, improves in storage becoming sweeter and juicier with age. The ruby colored juice sacs that we refer to as seeds are called arils; the average number of seeds is 613.
Pomegranate
Working with pomegranates can be done without fear of introducing a new color scheme to a favorite piece of clothing in the process with just a little knowledge and practice. To remove the arils, simply cut the crown end off the pomegranate and then lightly score the skin from top to bottom in quarters. After soaking the fruit in a bowl of cool water for just a minute or two, hold it under water while breaking the sections apart to eliminate splatter. Next, separate the seeds from the rind and membrane; the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, while the rest will float. Discard the rind and membrane, then drain and pat the seeds dry.

An even easier method of getting to the seeds of this tasty fruit involves a quick trip to your local market to pick up a tray or two of Melissa’s Pomegranate Arils. Each tray contains a full 8 ounces of juicy seeds, ready-to-eat, without the hassle of the do-it-yourself method. These arils are very fresh and will last about two weeks in the home refrigerator.

For 1 cup of juice, blend 1-1/2 to 2 cups of arils in a blender or food processor until liquefied. Pour mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve. Another even simpler way to juice pomegranates is to treat them just like an orange; cut them in half and use a hand or electric juicer. No matter the method of extraction, the point is that, as an ingredient, it’s all about the tangy sweet juice.

Pomegranate juice is a very versatile component with a rich, fruity, sweet tart flavor. It can be used freshly squeezed, made into thick syrup for sauces and marinades or, harkening back to those youthful memories again, turned into sugary grenadine for drinks. Making the syrup is a very simple reduction procedure. Pour two cups of juice into a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and 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 as it cools. The syrup has a slightly stronger flavor than the juice and can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to six months. To make grenadine, simply combine equal amounts of sugar and juice before beginning the same reduction process.

In the few short minutes that it took to read this article so far, you now know how to extract pomegranate seeds easily, as well as how to turn those seeds into both juice and syrup. Here are two easy-to-prepare lamb recipes using both forms that we hope will serve as a tasty introduction to Middle Eastern cooking. It’s a part of the world that has had a pot simmering on the stove for centuries with many interesting and exotic flavors to discover on your own, starting with the luscious pomegranate.