Beautiful baublesSeptember 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.