Monday, December 7, 2009

Market Fresh: Pomegranates

Cutting open a pomegranate is like opening a safe and letting glistening red rubies fall from its insides. Somehow I feel I'm cooking with jewels. And, pomegranates are in season now, just in time for the holidays.

Pomegranates are a very ancient fruit, originally cultivated in South Asia. Most of the fruit we see in our markets today come from California, thanks to Spanish settlers in the 18th century. You will find them abundant between September and February.

There are many ways to use the pomegranate, but the first thing is to get it open and remove all the little juice-covered seeds (properly known as "arils"). A word of warning: Pomegranate juice stains! You may want to wear an apron while working with one, and my mother suggests not wearing your best white shirt!

Step One: Slice the top off the pomegranate and score the sides:



Step Two: Peel back the sides and begin to pop out the seeds. You can do this in a bowl of water to avoid splatters, or you can just be careful. (If you use the bowl of water you'll need to drain the seeds afterward.) Avoid any seeds that look dull in color and do not glisten -- these are past their prime and will have a sour taste. (See very right of picture below.)



I've decided I like using the seeds most of all, but if you need pomegranate juice for your recipe (as in the salad dressing below), you'll need to get out a potato masher and begin to pop those seeds:



One pomegranate will yield about 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice -- pretty precious stuff! Once you've mashed the seeds you'll need to strain the juice out with a mesh strainer, pressing the seeds against the sides with a spoon to release the last bit of juice.

And now for some recipes. Remember, you eat the seeds whole, as if they are tiny fruits themselves -- no spitting the pits out. The first recipe I tried was Chicken with Pomegranate and Yogurt. We all enjoyed the curry-like flavor of the dish and the beautiful red seeds sprinkled on top. It paired very nicely with the Herby Couscous that follows.



CHICKEN WITH YOGURT AND POMEGRANATE
(adapted from www.bbcgoodfood.com)

olive oil
butter
about 20 ounces of chicken breasts, cut in half lenghthwise and then carefully slit in half through the middle
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 1/2 c. greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. plain flour (omit for gluten-free)
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 Tbsp cilantro, freshly chopped (not pictured above)

Heat a bit of olive oil and butter in a saute pan. Season the chicken pieces and cook on both sides until nicely browned and cooked through (7-10 minutes). Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add more olive oil to the pan and tip in the onions. Cook until golden. Stir in the cumin and cook for a minute.

Add the stock to the pan. Mix the yogurt with the flour (this stabilises the yogurt to prevent splitting).

Return the chicken to the pan. Add a ladleful of the cooking liquid to the yogurt and mix well. Now add the yogurt to the chicken and mix carefully. Gently heat through. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds and cilantro when serving.

NOTE: If you don't have Greek yogurt, you can strain regular yogurt through a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth to thicken it. Start with about 3 cups of plain yogurt and leave to strain for about 30 minutes (or more if you have time).

Serves 6.



This couscous, with its festive colors of red and green, makes a perfect holiday side dish! Serve it alongside chicken, pork, or fish.

HERBY COUSCOUS WITH CITRUS AND POMEGRANATE DRESSING
(adapted from www.bbcgoodfood.com)

1 1/2 c. couscous
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 pomegranate
mint and cilantro, chopped (about 1 handful)
juice of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. each white vinegar and olive oil

Place the couscous in a shallow bowl, then pour over the hot chicken stock. Cover the bowl with cling film or a plate and leave for 5 minutes until the stock is absorbed into the couscous. Ruffle with a fork to separate the grains, then stir through the pomegranate seeds and herbs.

Make a dressing by mixing together the orange juice, white wine vinegar, and olive oil. Stir into the couscous. Season well with salt and pepper.

Serves 4-6.



I find the simplest way to use a pomegranate is to throw the seeds on top of a green salad for extra texture and beauty. The seeds are also a very festive addition to a fruit salad. However, I really did want to try a pomegranate vinaigrette on a salad. In retrospect, it was delicious and lovely, but I find just adding the seeds to a salad to be faster and perhaps even lovelier than hiding them in the dressing.

SPINACH SALAD WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES, WALNUTS AND POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE
(adapted from www.foodnetwork.com)

1/2 c. pomegranate juice (see above on how to make this)
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
6 cups spinach leaves
1/3 c. dried cranberries
1/3 c. walnut pieces

I added one chopped pear to the salad along with pomegranate seeds for decoration.

In a small container with lid, combine pomegranate juice, vinegar, oil, and Dijon. Seal and shake to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Place spinach in a bowl and mix in cranberries and walnuts (and pear or pomegranate seeds if you are adding these). Pour vinaigrette over spinach and serve.

I kept my extra dressing in the fridge for about 4 days.

Serves 4-6.