Ponder the Pomegranate


Pomegranates are a beautiful, majestic fruit with a crown on top, resembling nothing else on produce stands. In areas with a high concentration of Jews, you're likely to come across more of them in the next couple of weeks.

There's that Jewish geography connection.

The pomegranate (rimon in Hebrew) is one of the seven choice fruits of the Land of Israel mentioned in the Bible, and is mentioned many times in biblical and talmudic literature.

In many traditional families, the pomegranate is one of the "good omens" eaten on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, to beseech God to judge our merits to be plentiful as the seeds of the rimon. According to tradition, the rimon has 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of mitzvot. (Children like taking apart a pomegranate and counting the seeds for themselves. I won't reveal the secret results.)

One of a Kind

Definitely different, the pomegranate's leathery red to pink to yellow skin with a parchment-like texture houses a tangy-sweet flesh bursting with juice. It is actually a collection of hundreds of tiny whole fruits, separated into clusters by a yellowish-white membrane. The shiny seeds have a translucent pulp that gives them an appealing sweet-tart flavor. That's the part you eat.

Like to try this fruit? Be sure to choose well: Quality pomegranates will be large, firm, smooth-skinned and heavy for their size. The coloring will be an even, deep red, and there will be few skin blemishes. Numerous brown or scarred areas on the skin or soft spots indicate an old product. Small fruit will mean smaller, less juicy seeds with more waste.

There are various methods for removing the seeds and avoiding pomegranate stains. But truly, I find the best way is just to cut the fruit into sections and dig in. Be sure to remove all the pith, and don't get too anxious about potential stains — they are nothing to get excited about.

Pomegranate seeds can decorate as well as be an integral part of most any dish: salads, fruit desserts, cakes or puddings. They can be used as a garnish on rice dishes, pancakes, waffles or ice cream sundaes. The juice can be used as a marinade or glaze for chicken or lamb.

Pomegranates are an upcoming star on the health front, too. Recent studies have found that the pomegranate demonstrates the most-complete free-radical scavenging activity, greater protection of LDL-cholesterol from oxidation, and the highest polyphenol content compared to red wine, Concord grape, blueberry and orange juices.

This is a beautiful side dish or even dessert for your holiday meals.

Couscous Fruit Ring

1 package (1 lb.) instant couscous
20 pitted dates
20 almonds, halved
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 tsp. salt
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
1/2 cup brown sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsps. honey
3 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. brandy or fruit-flavored liqueur (optional)
2 Tbsps. pomegranate seeds

Prepare couscous according to package directions. Fluff with a fork. Press into a ring mold. Turn out mold on to a decorative platter.

Fill each date with two almond halves and arrange in a circle atop couscous.

Combine remaining ingredients. Arrange in the center of the couscous mold.

Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

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Ann Kleinberg is a pomegranate-lover and expert. Her book, Pomegranates, published by Ten Speed Press & Penn Publishing Ltd., offers a tantalizing collection of pomegranate recipes from all over the world and for all courses. See her Website, too (www.planet-pomegranate.com). The following recipe comes from the book:

Pomegranate Ambrosia

1 red grapefruit
1 naval orange
1 banana
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup pineapple chunks
1/4 cup marshmallows
1/8 cup flaked coconut
fresh mint leaves for garnish

Slice the grapefruit in half crosswise. Using a grapefruit knife, cut out the core and cut all around the grapefruit. Cut in between the membranes and drop out the grapefruit segments into a bowl. Squeeze some of the grapefruit juice in as well. Do the same for the orange, adding the segments to the bowl.

Slice the banana in half lengthwise, then across to form half-round slices. Add to the bowl with the grapefruit and oranges.

If using mini-marshmallows, toss in a few. If using large colored or white marshmallows, cut them into quarters and then toss in with the other fruit.

Add the pomegranate seeds and flaked coconut, and mix.

Place in individual glass serving bowls and decorate with fresh mint leaves.

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And what's a one-topic article without cake? I make this cake every Rosh Hashanah. It's faintly pink and enjoyed by all.

Pomegranate Apple-Scented Cake

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
21/2 tsps. baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup apple juice
1 cup pomegranate seeds

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cream sugar and butter; mix in egg and vanilla until smooth.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl; stir into first mixture alternately with apple juice; stir until smooth.

Mix in pomegranate seeds.

Pour batter into greased and floured 8×11-inch baking pan.

Bake in oven till light brown on top, about 25 minutes.

Rivka Tal is a food writer based in Jerusalem.



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