There are few more interesting fruits, aesthetically speaking, than the pomegranate. Call it sexual if you like with its bright crimson globe bursting with what seems like thousands of succulent seeds. There's a reason its been in paintings for hundreds of years and has been viewed as a fertility symbol since ancient Greece. Who wouldn't think of sex when they see its cross section? In fact, I'm thinking that the "apple" in Eden really was more likely a pomegranate.
While more appreciated in other parts of the world, the pomegranate has seen a resurgence over the last few years. As soon as a you see something in a Starbucks Frappucino, you know its the flavour of the moment. Their taste is sweet, tart, and bright all at once and a glorious centerpiece can be made simply by placing a few in a white or glass bowl.
Used mostly fresh, some cultures will concentrate it to make a product like Pomegranate Molasses- a deep, dark, sweet and smoky condiment used in sauces. In Morocco they are used in stews and meat dishes and the seeds are dried and ground to be used as a common spice known as Anardana in Indian cooking. Most of us probably had our first pomegranate in a Shirley Temple as an adventurous youth (wink) in the form of grenadine. In fact, the fresh juice makes a great addition to almost any drink, especially ones with citrus components. Add a few tablespoons to your usual lemonade for a beautiful drink.
Pomegranates are in season in the winter, usually from December to February when their glossy, red appearance brightens up the winter produce line up. So I'm at the end of the season for this post. I've been too busy gorging myself on them! Get out there and buy yours today! Look for ones that are shiny and vital looking, heavy for their size, with no caving or visible dryness. One large fruit will usually yield a minimum of 1/2 cup of juice, which is more than you might expect. When shopping, look for stickers that say POM. This is a farm in California that consistently grows the best pomegranates. Store them on the counter or in the fridge. They will keep for about a week, although best to use to them shortly after purchase.
Now, there's the question of the most effective way to get at that glorious juice. Sure, you can buy it made from concentrate in a bottle, but if you've ever had a fresh squezed orange and compared it to juice from a carton, you know the difference. While a little more difficult to juice than an orange, the pomegranate is really a fruit that is worth the effort to juice yourself. And I often think that in food, a little extra effort is always worth it. So to help you take advantage of this unique and very seasonal fruit I'll show you what I think is the best way to take charge of one. You'll need a pomegrante, small paring knife and a large bowl of cold water.
2. Fill a large bowl with water and set it in the sink. Grab hold with your hands and break it apart with verve. You can also do this part completely under water. Don't be afraid to get powerful. Use the score lines as guides and let the membranes separate naturally.
3. Place the fruit and your hands in the water, keeping the fruit submerged at all times. This technique will keep splatters in the water instead of on you, kitchen grout or anywhere else you don't want the very stain-able juice. It also makes it easy to really get your hands in there and pull it apart. Don't be shy just start pulling the seeds and membranes away from each other, discarding the large chunks, don't worry about the small white pith at this point. Use the outside skin and sort of turn it inside out which will help pop the seeds out. Try your best not to puncture the seeds as this will lose the seeds in the water.
4. After successfully breaking the seeds free, leave the entire container filled with water for about 30 minutes to give the membranes time to float to the top. Scoop most of it away with your hands. Now strain the entire thing. You can keep these as is in the fridge for a few days. Toss them on a spinach salad, a bowl of ice cream, or a chocolate dessert. Or just throw some in a bowl and snack on them, my favourite way (thanks Mom!).
5. If the juice is what you are after, put them in a blender and pulse them several times until they are well broken down but the hard seeds are not completely ground up. The mixture should look juicy.
6. Pour through a strainer and push the pulp and juice through. Once you've squeezed every last bit, leave the juice to sit for about 1 hour. This gives any of the blended pith a chance to settle in the bottom. If you see a cloudy lay on the bottom of any amount, pour the juice slowly off leaving that potentially bitter stuff behind.
The uses are endless, but I will leave you with a lovely refreshing drink.
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup simple syrup (dissolve equal parts sugar and hot water and cool)
1 lime, juiced
several bruised mint leaves
2 cups sparkling water
Mix all together, taste for sweetness and pour into ice filled glasses. Enjoy immediately. For an adult version, replace the water with vodka or sparkling wine.