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Beautiful baubles

September 20, 2010

Is there any fruit more wildly gorgeous, more sexily exotic than the pomegranate?

The first time I ever ate a pomegranate seed was a few years ago, when my friend Miss J flung a few seeds into a glass of sparkling wine. This might be old news to all of you, but I was astounded – the way they zing up and down forever in the glass, like tiny, ruby-red submarines! Gotta love a drink that also performs tricks. And then, of course, there’s the eating: the surprise of that sweet, sour, crunch and burst.

I hereby vow to use the pomegranate much more this summer, but I need you to help me figure out some new ways of using it. Pomegranate molasses is a key ingredient in lots of Middle Eastern dishes, as you will know, but it’s the texture of the seeds I’m really in love with. If you haven’t used the molasses and are tempted, just be warned it’s very strong – it has a wonderfully sour, complex flavour, but too much of it will really make you wince, so go easy.

Likewise, if a fresh pomegranate isn’t ripe the seeds can be horribly sour and have almost no juice at all, so try to make sure you get a ripe one. The riper it is, the darker and sweeter the seeds. You’ll see, for example, that my pomegranate pictured here has some dark seeds and lots of paler ones – the latter are barely edible and in fact this whole fruit isn’t as ripe as I’d really like. I’m told here that the riper the fruit, the darker the skin, and the heavier it feels in the hand. Another nice tip, according to the same source, is that the ripest pomegranate has slightly squared sides, whereas an unripe one is round as an apple.

In Arabesque, Claudia Roden gives a divine Lebanese recipe for roasted sliced aubergines brushed with pomegranate molasses, then slathered in a mix of yoghurt and tahini and scattered with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts (and the pomegranate even features in the stunning cover photo of this book). You have no idea till you taste this how velvety and luscious it is.

But my other favourite for pomegranate seeds (actually called arils, I believe) is this Ottolenghi shaved fennel, feta & pomegranate salad. It’s a tart, crisp salad with lots of lemon and tarragon, but the creaminess of the feta beautifully offsets the sharpness of the other ingredients.

I also love Ottolenghi’s suggested method of removing the seeds. It’s important to use only the glossy red seeds, not the horrid white pith, and lots of people recommend a process of scoring the skin, immersing the fruit in water, breaking the flesh apart and leaving in water so the seed sinks and the pith floats to the top for removal. Then you have to sieve the seeds to drain them. Which all sounds rather laborious to me, and I much prefer the Ottolenghi method of simply halving the fruit at the fattest part, holding the cut side down in your cupped hand over a bowl, and whacking the upper side of the fruit, quite vigorously, with a wooden spoon. The seeds simply drop out into your hand and/or the bowl, with lots of juice. Too easy, chief!

If you haven’t yet tasted pomegranate, I suggest you give the fennel salad a try immediately, along with a tall glass of bubbles & baubles. And if you’re already an aficionado, tell me what you do with these beads of beauty so I can expand my repertoire.

9 comments

  1. I’ve seen pomegranates being squeezed for juice in Kashgar, western China. They use a lethal looking press and the ruby juice is just stunning. First up I thought they were doing something really disgusting, as it looked like blood. I was relieved when I saw the pomegranate shells!
    Sallyh


  2. Sprinkle them over an orange salad, or a pannacotta, or through couscous.


  3. In answer to your opening question: NO! I love pomegranates. I think Nigella recommends the whacking with spoon method too, but the seeds tumble out of the pith easily with the gentlest persuasion from fingertips when you break a ripe fruit open and pull it apart, I don’t think any smacking is needed. (I put the point of a knife in, cut a third to a half of the way down one side, then sort of lever it open at the fruit’s natural seams and so minimise the juice loss.)

    The ripe fruit feels full and heavy and can be almost split looking at the crown. A couple of times last summer I prepared king dory in a marinade of fresh pomegranate juice, olive oil, sumac, lemon and orange juice, salt and pepper, served on chopped (charred then roasted) eggplant mixed with roasted garlic, cinnamon, cloves, sesame oil and yoghurt, garnished with pomegranate molasses and seeds. With a green salad.

    And I like just eating a handful of seeds too: that sweet and tart and juicy and crunchy mouthful is hard to beat.

    I think a little of the molasses goes a long way – it’s a bit overpowering in that sweet, tomato sauce, kecap manis way, but it looks so pretty swirled onto a plate, and a spoonful in a summer dressing of walnut oil and white wine vinegar is yummy too.


    • yeah – I meant split-looking – forgot that crucial hyphen… don’t yet have power to split fruit simply by looking at it…may never have that power…


  4. With one of those pomegranates you purchase I would *strongly* recommend making a batch of Katrina from Kale for Sale’s pomegranate honey: http://kaleforsale.blogspot.com/2009/11/pomegranate-honey.html It is divine. I mean wondrously, amazingly good. Some of the juice from the seeds leaches out into the honey, which thins the honey, while also infusing it with that flavour. I have a batch of this honey in the fridge and it’s beautiful spooned over yoghurt, or figs. You can use it in salad dressings. And I’ve also extravagantly poured it, as a syrup, over a delicious cake.

    Also quite lovely in a G & T mind you . . .


  5. Lordy, lordy! These hints are VERY spectactular, gals!! Love the juice idea Sally, and blimey Fiona! That marinade! Mouthwatering (and we got your meaning, I think, although now I am disappointed to learn that you don’t actually have superpowers. Please try harder).

    And K – that sounds incredibly good. Wondrous, as you say! Am most definitely going to do the pomegranate honey, and thanks to Katrina for writing about it. I am very excited about that particular stroke of genius. It sounded DIVINE even before you got to the part about the G&T, but as that is my fave summer drink, look out. Pom honey at every turn in this house from now on!


  6. Just don’t do what I did and lose your pomegranate honey at the back of the cupboard – it fermented.


    • whoa – really? Thanks for the warning, Zoe. So I’m guessing it’s important to take out the seeds etc after a few days? And keep in the fridge, perhaps. I haven’t done it yet and am away this week so will have to wait a little while. But shall be vigilant when I do!


  7. Love all these ideas. The only way I’ve used pomegranate is to slow roast a lamb shoulder with spices (middle eastern), then pull the lamb apart with forks and serve it on a platter scattered with torn mint,labneh and pomegranate seeds. It looks sensational and tastes divine.



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