This year, right on the heels of Labor Day, Erev Rosh Hashanah falls on Wednesday, Sept. 8. There's the frantic rush to prepare all the traditional dishes -- chicken, briskets, kugels -- and, to symbolize a fulfilling and happy year ahead, apples and honey, and sweet cakes and cookies.
A tradition that's often overlooked until the last minute is serving a "new" fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah -- a fruit which we have not yet eaten this season. Until the rise of the "buy local" movement, it was legitimately difficult to find a fruit that wasn't flown in from somewhere else -- another country even -- whether in season or not.
We have strawberries in December, grapes and kiwi fruit year-round, ready to eat. But pomegranates, which come into season in September, don't appear in markets until around the Jewish holidays. The crown-topped, leathery-skinned, red-and-gold orb is the perfect "new" fruit for the beginning of a New Year.
The pomegranate boasts a noble heritage. In the Bible, the land of Israel is praised for its pomegranates, and Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness.
It's said that there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot -- or "commandments" -- in the Torah. It is also one of the few images that appear on ancient coins of Judea; even today, many Torah scrolls are stored with a pair of decorative silver "pomegranates" placed over the two upper-scroll handles. Some Jewish scholars even believe that it was the pomegranate -- and not the apple -- that was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Choosing a pomegranate is easy. They are about the size of a small grapefruit. Look for those that are heavy, smooth-skinned, unblemished and firm to the touch. They may be kept at room temperature for a couple weeks. For longer storage, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for four to six weeks.
Each pomegranate is packed with ruby-red, sweet, tart, gem-like sacs bursting with pure flavor. To get all the seeds out with no mess, here's a super-easy, three-step method.
· Cut off the crown, removing with it some of the white pith. Lightly score into quarters from stem to crown end.
· Firmly but gently break the sections apart, following the score lines. Place the sections in a bowl of cold water.
· Roll out the sacs with your fingers. Discard pith and skin. Strain off the water and you have all the succulent whole seeds.
To juice a pomegranate, the fruit should be at room temperature. Roll it around on the counter, then cut off the crown end. Cut in half. Place 1/2 in a juicer (not an electric juicer) and ream as you would a lemon. Each pomegranate yields about 1/2 cup of juice.
Here are some easy ways to use the fruit:
· Toss the seeds over salad greens;
· Stir into rice or custard pudding;
· Fold into gelatin dessert;
· Stir into yogurt or soft ice-cream;
· Sip on a glass of shaved ice with pomegranate juice poured over;
· Fold into cake or muffin batter and bake.
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsps. Dijon mustard
2 tsps. grated ginger root
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. honey, warmed or to taste
Place all of the ingredients in a jar.
Cover tightly and shake well to combine. Use at room temperature.
Makes about 1 cup.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 48; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 47 mg.
Roasted Pomegranate Chicken
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 chicken (31/2 to 4 lbs.) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 pomegranate, halved
1/4 cup dry white wine
juice of 1 large lemon
1 Tbsp. cinnamon-sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°.
In a cup, mix the oil and garlic. Brush over the chicken pieces. Place chicken in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle any of the remaining oil over the chicken.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the skin is nicely browned and juices run clear when a pierced at the thickest part with a fork.
Remove 1 tablespoon of seeds from the pomegranate. Set aside.
Squeeze the juice from the remaining pomegranate halves.
In a small saucepan, mix the juice, wine, lemon juice and cinnamon-sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Pierce each piece several times with a fork.
Pour the sauce over. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 422; protein, 29 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 30 g; cholesterol, 115 mg; sodium, 109 mg.
Sticky, Spicy Red Wings
3 lbs. chicken wings
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
3/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsps. cider vinegar
3 Tbsps. pomegranate seeds
Preheat oven to 375°.
Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil.
Toss the wings in 3 tablespoons of oil. Arrange the wings in a single layer on prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes, until nicely browned and meat is opaque.
In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the garlic and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pepper has changed color.
Add all the remaining ingredients, except the pomegranate seeds. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, until reduced to about 3/4 cup, 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain off the fat from chicken wings. Pour the sauce over the wings turning to coat.
Bake for 12 minutes, or until the sauce is thickly coating the wings. Turn often. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 379; protein, 23 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; fat, 26 g; cholesterol, 112 mg; sodium, 265 mg.
16 baby carrots
3 large sweet potatoes (about 11/2 lbs.), cut in 1-inch dice
2 medium apples, cored and each cut in 8 wedges
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp. grated ginger root, or 1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 Tbsp. margarine
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cook the carrots and sweet potatoes in boiling water to cover for 10 minutes, until barely tender. Drain well.
In a large baking dish, place the carrots and sweet potatoes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, except the pomegranate seeds and margarine. Stir gently to mix.
Scatter the pomegranate seeds over top. Dot with margarine.
Bake for 40 minutes, until bubbly and beginning to brown.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 207; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 50 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 2 mg; sodium, 42 mg.
1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup ginger ale
3 Tbsps. brown sugar, packed
3-4 whole cloves or scant 1/4 tsp. powdered cloves
4 ripe pears, cored, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
In a large skillet, combine pomegranate juice, ginger ale, brown sugar and cloves. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the pears. Baste with the liquids in skillet. Cover partially.
Cook over low heat until the pears are tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 15 minutes.
Cool. Serve at room temperature with the juices drizzled over.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 116; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 30 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 5 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: [email protected] .