11.28.2008

Pomegranates

In recent years, I’ve become enamoured of pomegranates. And I’m not alone. Everywhere, it seems, there is pomegranate: from juice to soda, facial scrubs and bath oils to scented candles and wreaths. It was only after I bought my first box of six that I realized they were a favourite among just about everyone in my family.

My father’s Lebanese roots meant he had lots of exposure to Mediterranean cooking growing up, and pomegranates (native to Mediterranean regions) were no strangers to my grandparents’ kitchen. Even my British grandmother on my mother’s side enjoyed pomegranates as a child, recounting how she and her sister used to use their little knitting needles to get the juicy seeds out of their tough casings.

I love the look of pomegranates as much as I love the taste, which is strong and slightly sour. Their robust round shape, large size and pretty crowns – not to mention their lustrous ruby tones – are just so beautiful. I had to photograph them before using them:

One pomegranate yields about two cups of seeds.

Personally, I like to eat the seeds on their own, but they can be used in all kinds of unique ways, from juice to garnish, from desserts and salads to main dishes. Below are some facts about pomegranate preparation and a yummy recipe for cucumber and pomegranate salad, a common blend in the Middle East.

POMEGRANATE PREPARATION:

NO MESS METHOD
Cut off the crown then cut the pomegranate into sections. Place the sections in a bowl of water then roll out the arils (juice sacs) discarding the peel and pith, leaving just the arils in the water. The water reduces staining and contains the peeling process. Strain the water through a strainer to catch the arils and proceed to use them as desired.

TRADITIONAL METHOD

Cut the crown end off a pomegranate, removing with it some of the white pith. Lightly score the skin in quarters, from the stem to the crown end. Firmly yet gently break the sections apart, following the score lines. Bend back the skin and gently scoop the seed clusters into a bowl; remove any pith.

FANNING METHOD
Cut the pomegranate in half vertically. With the cut side up, make 4 equally spaced cuts 1 inch long and 1 inch deep. Hold the pomegranate half, cut side down, over a deep bowl and pull the fruit open but not apart, using equal pressure from both hands. Holding the pomegranate half, cut side down, in the palm of one hand, whack the top of the fruit with the back of a large spoon. The seeds will fall out.

JUICING METHODS:

JUICER METHOD
Cut the fresh pomegranate in half as you would a grapefruit. We recommend using a hand-press juicer to juice a pomegranate. If you use an electric juicer, take care not to juice the membrane, so that the juice remains sweet. Strain the juice through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve. Caution, pomegranate juice stains.

BLENDER METHOD
Place 1-1/2 to 2 cups seeds in a blender; blend until liquefied.Pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve. Caution, pomegranate juice stains.

ROLLING METHOD
On a hard surface, press the palm of your hand against a pomegranate and gently roll to break all of the seeds inside (crackling stops when all seeds have broken open). Pierce the rind and squeeze out juice or poke in a straw and press to release juice. Caution, pomegranate juice stains. NOTE: Rolling can be done inside a plastic bag to contain juice that leaks through the skin.

Cucumber and Pomegranate Salad

1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or 1 tablespoon dried mint
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon angelica powder
1 long seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
Seeds of 2 pomegranates
1 fresh lime, peeled and sliced, with inner skin removed

In serving bowl, combine ingredients and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For an extra kick, crumble feta cheese on top.

Did you know that Spanish Padres are credited with bringing pomegranates to California? They grew them at missions some 200 years ago. Today the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of California, is the only concentration of commercially grown pomegranates in North America.

2 comments:

MarthaAndMe said...

I tried something similar to the fanning method you describe. Martha demonstrated it on the air. Whacking it with the back of a spoon really does get most of the seeds out, although it was kind of messy!

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

I tried the 'no mess' method using the bowl and it actually worked really well: no splatters or stains. It's all under water, so it's a very clean way of doing it.