When I was a kid, the only thing that helped me get over the passing of Christmas was the appearance of what my grandfather called “Chinese apples.” I couldn’t wait until he pried the bright red skin open, revealing the tiny jewel-like seeds. I loved the tart juice as it burst on my tongue and stained my fingertips. He patiently peeled fruit after fruit as I eagerly devoured this ancient fruit, now touted as a “super food.”
The pomegranate is said to be native to Persia where it was cultivated as far back as 4000 years. Highly prized in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, where they were buried with the dead, the prophet Mohammed once said that the pomegranate was so delicious, so sustaining that it cleansed the body of all longing. In western cultures, the pomegranate was fairly popular until the 19th century, at which time it seems to have lost appeal. Lucky for us, it’s enjoying renewed popularity with the realization of the nutrient density of this lovely fruit, but sadly it’s mostly as a juice. Many people dislike the fresh pomegranate for the very reasons I loved them as a child (and an adult)-they are messy, take a bit of work to open and stain our fingers.
Growing in tropical and sub-tropical climates, the pomegranate tree can adapt to differing climes and soil types and actually grows best where there are cold winters and very warm summers. The main producers of this fabulous fruit are the U.S., India and Iran, with its name being derived from the Latin, ‘granatum,’ meaning ‘fruit of many seeds.’
Measuring about 3 inches in diameter, the pomegranate has a thick, leathery skin that is inedible, most commonly bright red in color. Inside, thick, white membranes divide the fruit into six sections, each one housing an abundance of the edible, juice-filled seeds, with a divinely tangy, sweet flavor.
When choosing a pomegranate, look for fruit that is unblemished and heavy for its size, brightly colored and free of brown spots. Pomegranates can be left at room temperature for several days before use. To freeze them, simply remove the seeds and place them in plastic bags and place in the freezer.
There are a couple of methods to remove the seeds from the pomegranate:
1. Simply split the skin into four sections, pry the fruit open and pick the seeds out of the membranes.
2. Perform the method above but when removing the seeds, do so with the fruit in a bowl of cold water which prevents finger stains.
3. Split the fruit in half and, with a wooden spoon, smack the skin of the fruit, with the cut side over a bowl, allowing the seeds to fall gently from the skin into the bowl.
Mostly eaten out of hand or juiced, pomegranates are also great as condiments, in salads, in roasted veggie dishes and desserts. A great source of potassium, pomegranates are also a rich source of vitamin C, pantothenic acid, niacin and citric acid.
Here is my favorite pomegranate recipe.
Artichoke Salad with Greens and Pomegranate
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thin half-moon slices
8-10 oil-marinated artichoke hearts, split in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled, seeded, sliced into thin
juice of 2 limes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons avocado oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
generous pinch black pepper
2 bunches watercress, stem tips trimmed, left whole
1 pomegranate, split open, seeds removed
2-3 fresh scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in artichoke hearts and red pepper ribbons and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes more.
Prepare the dressing by whisking together lime juice, oil, vinegar and rice syrup, adjusting seasonings to taste.
To plate the dressing, arrange watercress on a platter. Spoon sautéed artichoke heart mixture over the top and drizzle lightly with dressing, serving the balance of the dressing on the side for those who want to use more. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, scallions and serve immediately after dressing. Makes 5-6 servings.