The thrill of a Pomegranate

T
When one cuts through the leathery skin of a pomegranate Punica Granatum, for the first time, one can’t help but be thrilled – all those jewel-like seeds, little ‘rubies’ neatly arranged in a star-shaped pattern. When I was at hotel school in Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin in the late 60’s, the street traders in Moore Street called them wine apples. They sounded and looked so exotic with their little crown-like calyx, but I had no idea what to do with them.

They’re a bit strange if you just eat them like a fruit – lots of gritty pips if you decide to chew. Pomegranates are at their best at the moment – it’s the season.

They come from the Middle East and the Mediterranean and nowadays India, China and Saudi Arabia, the Central Valley in California. They flourish where summer temperatures reach 100F. They need a hot, dry climate to ripen which explains why my pomegranate ‘tree’ is not doing so well in Shanagarry!. The seeds vary in colour, sometimes they can be disappointingly pale, but if you have a choice seek out a variety called ‘Wonderful’ which has brilliant red seeds.

Although pomegranates are relatively exotic on our food scene, they have been part of the human diet for millennia, their cultivation pre-dates written history and in many Eastern cultures they are a symbol of fertility.

The seeds not only look, but taste delicious in couscous, sprinkled over salads, both sweet and savoury, and in Winter game casseroles.

Their sweet tart juice tenderises meats, especially lamb. One of my favourite new ingredients, Pomegranate molasses thick, syrupy, concentrated juice produced in the Middle East is now available in Asian shops, delis and some more adventurous supermarkets. The concentrated syrupy liquid is great in salad dressings, splashed into drinks, added to a marinade or just drizzled over cooked food. It keeps for ages so once you have a bottle in your cupboard, experiment, you’ll find lots of opportunities to use it.

Extracting the seeds – this can be, but doesn’t have to be a messy business.

Cut the fruit in half around the equator, some cooks suggest holding the pomegranate cut side down in the palm of the hand or on a plate, then bashing the upturned fruit with the back of a wooden spoon to loosen the seeds. This works pretty well but is certainly messy and a little hazardous when you remember that pomegranate juice leaves a stubborn stain on clothes, so cover up with a dark apron.

It may be a bit slower and more pernickety to cut the fruit in half and then break each half in two, flick out the seeds from each section, avoiding the creamy, yellow, coloured pith. 

Juicing - Some recipes call for pomegranate juice, I find that a citrus juicer works well. Fresh pomegranate juice or indeed just the seeds can have a dramatic effect on reducing the bad cholesterol in our system – another good reason to take advantage of the short season – you’ll find them in the shops from October to February. Unfortunately their appearance gives very little clue as to their ripeness but choose fruit that looks fresh, not dried out. Organic fruit have more seeds and less membrane. Markets and fruit shops sometimes cut one fruit in half to demonstrate the quality and colour of the seeds.

Pomegranate Molasses Salad Dressing

A versatile dressing, delicious with salad leaves, but also with grilled fish, grilled chicken and grilled vegetables.
Pomegranate molasses is made by reducing the juice of sour pomegranates to a thick dark brown syrup with a distinctive sweet-sour flavour, available from Asian shops, Mr Bell’s in Cork’s English Market, or a good delicatessen.

2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sugar
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp lemon juice
8 tbsp olive oil
salt, black pepper, extra sugar if necessary

Mix the garlic, cumin, sugar, pomegranate molasses and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a little extra sugar if you think it’s a bit too sharp.

Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate Cocktail 
Mix freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice with Grenadine. Sweeten with stock syrup and dilute with still water or sparkling water. 
Serve with pomegranate seeds in ice-cubes and mint leaves 

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Sorbet

The jewel like seeds of the pomegranate look like glistening rubies and somehow appear very festive. A grapefruit sorbet is particularly versatile it can be served at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal and would make a delicious light refreshing starter on Christmas Day.
Serves 4-5

1 litre(1¾ pint) ruby grapefruit juice (10 grapefruit approx.)
225g (8oz) castor sugar approx.
1 egg white (optional)
1-2 pomegranates 

Garnish
2 pink grapefruit cut into segments
pomegranate seeds
Fresh mint leaves
8 chilled white side plates

Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl add the sugar and dissolve by stirring it into the juice. Taste. The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, it will loose some of its sweetness in the freezing.

Cut the pomegranates in half around the 'equator'. Open out and carefully flick the seeds into a bowl, discard the skin and all the yellow membrane.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed. 

Method 2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to freezer. Repeat several times. When almost frozen fold in the pomegranate seeds. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a covered stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Freeze again until needed.

To Serve:
Chill the plates in a refrigerator or freezer. 

Put 1 or 2 scoops of sorbet on each chilled plate, garnish with a few segments of pink grapefruit. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, spoon a little grapefruit juice over the segments, decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately.

Ruby Grapefruit Sorbet

Proceed as above but omit the pomegranate seeds.
Meringue Roulade with Pomegranate Seeds and Rose Blossom Water
Serves 6 - 8

4 egg whites
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
½ pint (300ml) whipped cream
2 pomegranates
1-2 teaspoons rose blossom water 

Garnish
Pomegranate seeds
Rose petals if available (make sure the rose hasn’t been sprayed)
Berried holly

Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC\350ºF\regulo 4. 

Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer. Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together. Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff peak 4 - 5 minutes approx.

Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with tin foil, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (eg. sunflower or arachide). 

Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Put a sheet of tin foil on the work top and turn the roulade onto it, remove the base tin foil and allow the meringue to cool.

Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the equator, open out and flick out the seeds. Sprinkle with a few drops of rose blossom water. 

Keep the seeds from half a pomegranate aside to decorate the roulade. 

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and remaining pomegranate seeds over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes of cream along the top of the roulade, decorate with the reserved pomegranate seeds and rose petals if available. Surround with berried holly.

Serve, cut into slices about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick.

Note: This roulade is also very good filled with raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, sliced peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.

Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad with Rocket, Figs and Pomegranates

Serves 8
1 fresh pomegranate
4 small fresh Ardsallagh cheese or a similar fresh goat cheese
8-12 fresh figs or 
8-12 plump dried figs
Enough rocket leaves for eight helpings and perhaps a few leaves of raddichio
32 fresh walnut halves

Dressing

4 fl.ozs (125ml) extra virgin olive oil
3 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teasp. honey
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the pomegranate in half around the equator, break each side open, flick out the glistening jewel-like seeds into a bowl, avoiding the bitter yellowy pith.

Next make the dressing – just whisk the oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey together in a bowl. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toast the walnut halves in a dry pan over a medium heat until they smell sweet and nutty. 

Just before serving, toss the rocket leaves in a deep bowl with a little dressing. Divide between eight large white plates. Cut each cheese into 3 pieces. 

Cut the figs into quarters from the top, keeping each one still attached at the base. Press gently to open out. Divide the cheese between the plates, three pieces on each, place a fig in the centre. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and freshly roasted walnuts. Drizzle with a little extra dressing and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Note: plump dried figs are best cut into slices and scattered over the salad.

Cool Yule Fruit Salad

Serves 10-15
Equal volumes of:

ripe melon, balled
ripe papaya, sliced thinly and cut into squares.
ripe mango, sliced
passion fruit seeds
ripe pineapple, diced
ripe kiwi, sliced and quartered.
ripe banana, sliced
pomegranate seeds 

A glass bowl
Lime Syrup

8 oz (110 g) sugar
8 fl oz (110 ml) water
2 limes

First make the lime syrup. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes; allow to cool. Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime. 

Prepare all the fruits in individual bowls and cover with lime syrup.

Arrange the fruit in layers in a glass bowl. Cover and allow to chill and marinate for an hour at least.

To Serve
Ladle carefully into serving bowls so each guest gets a mixture of fruit. Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

Foolproof Food

Mulled Red Wine

One of the easiest ways to entertain some of your friends before Christmas is to serve Mulled Wine and Mince Pies with lots of Whiskey Cream. At that stage they are still a novelty, whereas after Christmas people tend to groan, >Oh no, not Mince Pies again!
Serves 8 approx.

1 bottle of good red wine
4 ozs (110 g) sugar
Thinly-pared rind of 1 lemon
A small piece of cinnamon bark
A blade of mace
1 clove

Put the sugar into a stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, pour the wine over, add the lemon rind, cinnamon bark, mace and the clove. Heat slowly, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved. When it is hot but not scalding serve in glasses with a wedge of lemon in each one if desired.

Hot Tips

Some gift ideas:
Intensive Wine Course with Mary Dowey at Ballymaloe House – 11-13th March next – ideal Christmas present for a wine lover – Tel. 021-4652531 to book.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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