Most of us are thoroughly familiar with pomegranate seeds and juice; but how often have you actually come across a whole, seemingly impenetrable fruit? Wrapped in a thick, fibrous skin, the ruby, grapefruit-sized orbs barely betray the supple lushness inside; a dense collection of edible, cranberry-colored, liquid-encased pips, that account for less than half of the pomegranate’s weight.
And exotic as they seem, an explosion of interest in pomegranates is due to their recent classification as “super fruits” — boasting significantly higher levels of immune-boosting antioxidants than your garden-variety apples and pears. Originally from the Middle East, pomegranates are now commonly grown in mild-to-temperate climates, like California (needless to say, locals adore them for their anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties), and are at the peak of their productivity in winter and fall.
Which is why you’ll find vibrant, festively hued pomegranates speckling restaurant menus right now — from Lalo (which uses the seeds in a spin on the Mexican Christmas classic, Chiles en Nogada) to Italienne, which binds them in a foie gras Chaud-Froid (aspic). Since they’re native to the Middle East, it’s unsurprising to find the fleshy fruit at Einat Admony’s Bar Bolonat; adding tang to whole Pouissin over walnuts and crispy rice. The gelatinous pips contribute citrusy crunch to salad at Speedy Romeo, paired with kale, freekeh, apples and goat cheese vin, and they’re swirled into sorbet at Café Boulud, to accompany a seasonal, cinnamon meringue-based Vacherin. And of course, since pomegranate juice is a regular suspect in cocktails (which sublimate their nutritional benefits just slightly), you’ll come across tipples like the “Irish & Pomegranate” at BlackTail; featuring whiskey, amaro, cranberry, orange, and rich, blood-red pom soda.
If you’re so inclined to pass up pre-packaged tins of seeds and bottles of juice in your local grocery store, it’s worth swinging by the produce aisle (or greenmarket) instead, for a crack at a whole, fresh fruit. Look for large, deeply colored, heavy specimens, which will have a greater proportion of the clear red juice and crisp pulp, with skin that’s tough, thin and nearly bursting with seeds. Press the fruits gently; if they release a powdery cloud, return them to the bin because the pulp is dry as dust!
Believe it or not, pomegranates have a much longer shelf life than most fresh fruits. They can be kept at room temperature for 3 to 5 days or refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. The seeds and the whole fruit can be frozen for about 3 months. To seed a pomegranate, cut off the peel near the blossom end and remove it along with the bitter white pith. Lightly score the remaining peel into quarters from end to end. Working over a bowl, carefully break the fruit apart with your hands. Bend the peel inside out, and use your fingertips to lightly brush the seeds from the white membranes.
Granted, it’s a lot of work without a tremendous pay-off, so be sure to make the most of whatever juice and seeds you gather! Since they glisten like rubies, they’re the perfect way to dress up any salad; try cool weather combos like persimmon with jicama, assorted roasted squashes, or avocado and shrimp. Drop frozen seeds into champagne flutes or punchbowls, for a celebratory, refreshing garnish, and freeze juice into sorbet, ice cream, or slushy, crimson granita. Compose beautiful bruschetta, by arranging the pips over goat cheese-slathered baguette, or whirl into a romesco-like dip; along with walnuts, olive oil and roasted red peppers. Pomegranates make a glorious subject for jewel-toned vinegars, chutneys or jellies, and the sweet-tart flavor cuts perfectly for full-bodied proteins, including beef, lamb or duck. So go on and take a whack at a pomegranate this winter; the season’s most versatile superfruit.
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