- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

It started with a meeting. Was I interested in writing a cookbook? Not just any cookbook. This was to be a specialty book on pomegranates.

The problem was, I didn’t know much about pomegranates, but I began to eat, drink and sleep them. Our house filled with them. The kitchen, the garage, the office all were covered with globes of burnished red. Ah, I remember those days of pom juice innocence, when my world was just opening up to the joys of pomegranate pleasure.

And wow, the things I learned. For one thing, pomegranate season is about October to January. That’s when trees are doubled over with the heavy, colorful fruit and market baskets are filled to the brim.

In terms of history, let’s start with the Bible. Remember the creation story with the infamous apple? The fact is that apples were not indigenous to the region. Many scholars believe the forbidden fruit was actually a pomegranate.

Everyone, it turns out, had a passion for pomegranates. The Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen was buried with them to ensure safe passage to the next world. The Chinese decorate wedding gifts with them to symbolize a fruitful union. Jews eat them at Rosh Hashanah and wish for a sweet new year. The English incorporated pomegranates into their royal crests. King Solomon, Shakespeare, Ogden Nash, the ancient Greeks and Renaissance artist Botticelli are other illustrious pomegranate fans.

And talk about health benefits. Simply put, pomegranates are loaded with good stuff. Think calcium, potassium, vitamin C and folic acid. There are archeological indications that pomegranates were used as remedies for many ailments.

More recently, researchers have discovered the rich antioxidant properties of pomegranates and are investigating their use as treatments for cancer, heart disease and menopause.

So there’s the sensuous shape, the mysterious allure, the health benefits, but what about taste? Those wise men who came before us must certainly have known about the delicious and multifunctional character of pomegranate in food.

The seeds can be used as an exquisite garnish or a delightful addition to salads and desserts. The juice squeezed from the seeds adds a kick of flavor to dressings, cocktails, soups. The syrup (reduced from the juice) infuses dishes with a rich, intense layer of flavor that equals none other.

The Persians are fond of pomegranates and add them to various stews, soups and desserts. The Indians dry and grind pomegranates into powder to use in their dishes. Turkish cuisine has many wonderful recipes that utilize pomegranates. Basically, if you can eat it, you can add pomegranates to it.

Unless you’ve been out of the country for a while, you’ve probably heard of POM Wonderful. It’s the pomegranate juice company from California that seems to be everywhere. Try its most popular pure pomegranate juice as is or as an addition to a dish you’re making.

For pomegranate syrup, gourmet food shops and ethnic groceries are your best bet. Or be adventurous and make your own.

So there you have it, the complete confession of a pomegranate addict and lover. My affair turned into an obsession, and there’s no end in sight. Now if only they can find a way to grow them all year round. Luckily, the Israelis are working on it.

The recipes that follow are from my book, “Pomegranates” (10 Speed).

Parsley salad with feta, almonds and pomegranate seeds

There is something magical about tangy, sweet pomegranate seeds combined with salty cheese. This combination with parsley and slivered almonds is about as fresh and delicious as you can get. The color combination is a party for the eyes.

3 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves (or 1 bunch)

½ cup almond slivers

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Wash and dry parsley leaves. Break into bite-size pieces and put in mixing bowl. Saute almond slivers in a dry skillet or toast in a toaster oven until they start to turn golden and emit a pleasant aroma. Do not let them burn. Add to parsley.

Add crumbled feta and pomegranate seeds and toss. Pour dressing to taste over salad, toss and serve. Makes 2 or 3 servings.

POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE

This is also good over a Greek salad or a salad of pears and Roquefort cheese.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Pomegranate syrup (recipe follows)

4 teaspoons sugar

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

Dash of freshly ground black pepper

Combine olive oil, canola oil, white wine vinegar, pomegranate syrup, sugar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper in a cruet or screw-top jar and shake well. Keep refrigerated and shake again before use.

POMEGRANATE SYRUP

4 cups pomegranate juice

Pour juice into saucepan or skillet and bring to a steady boil over high heat. Decrease heat to maintain a steady bubbling and cook, stirring occasionally. After 20 to 30 minutes, juice will have reduced by about one half and will start to thicken. Dip a spoon into the juice. If it comes out relatively clean, continue cooking. If spoon is coated and syrup takes time sliding off, it’s ready. Makes about 2 cups syrup.

Red pepper, walnut and pomegranate dip

Adapted from the Turkish recipe for muhammara, this dip is fabulous served with toasted pita chips or crudites.

2 cups shelled walnuts

2 cups roasted red bell pepper strips, drained, if bottled

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (from previous recipe)

1 tablespoon ketchup

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

Saute walnuts in a dry skillet or toast in a toaster oven. They are ready when they start to brown and emit a pleasant aroma. Do not let them burn.

Combine walnuts with bell pepper strips, olive oil, pomegranate syrup, ketchup, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, hot red pepper flakes and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and puree. The mixture will turn into a paste, terra cotta in color and slightly grainy. Adjust seasonings.

Transfer mixture to a bowl, cover and chill. It will remain fresh for a week in the refrigerator and the flavor will improve with time. Makes about 2 cups.

Walnut, date and pomegranate chicken

This version of the Persian khoresh-e fesenjan chicken stew melts in your mouth.

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 yellow onions, sliced

2 pounds (about 20) chicken drumsticks, skinned

½ cup pomegranate syrup (preceding recipe) diluted in 1½ cups water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups walnuts, finely ground

3/4 cup chopped, pitted dates

Water, if needed

Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Heat oil in Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions for 3 to 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add drumsticks and saute until browned. Stir in diluted pomegranate syrup, sugar and salt. Add walnuts and dates and stir gently.

Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for about 1½ to 2 hours. Check and stir occasionally. Add a little water if stew is too thick. Chicken will be extremely soft after cooking and the dates will have melted into the stew. Garnish with pomegranate seeds before serving. Serves 8.

Grilled beef fillet with caramelized shallot, marsala and pomegranate marmalade

3 pounds fillet of beef

1 750 ml bottle Marsala wine

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

12 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup (preceding recipe)

1 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Place beef in a large nonreactive dish and pour Marsala over. Cover dish, refrigerate and marinate for 4 to 6 hours. Remove beef from marinade 1 hour before grilling and reserve marinade.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2 to 4 minutes, or until translucent. Add reserved marinade and pomegranate syrup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by two thirds.

In a small bowl, combine minced garlic with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub onto beef, covering entire surface. Grill beef over high heat for 2 minutes on each side to seal in juices. Decrease flame to medium and grill until desired doneness, about 15 minutes for medium-rare, turning once at the halfway point. Leave grill on.

Transfer beef to cutting board and cut into serving pieces. Return beef to grill for a few seconds on each side to seal edges of pieces. (Remove pieces quickly, before they char.) Serve immediate drizzled with pomegranate-Marsala sauce, which has been transformed into pomegranate marmalade, and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serves 6 to 8.

Pomegranate Campari

1/2 cup pomegranate juice

2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup Campari

4 ice cubes

2 lemon slices

Pour pomegranate juice into a glass, add confectioners’ sugar and stir well. Pour in Campari and add ice cubes. Drop in lemon slices. Serves 1.

Ann Kleinberg is a freelance writer, author and cooking teacher based in Israel. Her Web site is www.planet-pomegranate.com.

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