Food

Pomegranate Power

Hop on board

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

We are lucky to live in an age of pomegranates. With more being grown and consumed than ever before in the history of the world, the inevitable pomegranate renaissance is upon us. And we can begin enjoying the fruits of it immediately.

Pomegranate season is in full swing and, worldwide, pomegranate consumption is on the rise for culinary and health reasons—something to note as you attempt to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. There is also demand from cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, all of which makes for attractive pricing on a fruit that grows by the hundreds on a healthy tree.

The trees are low-maintenance, and can adapt to many conditions, including heat and drought. Such conditions are becoming more common in many parts of the world, like in India, the number one producer of pomegranates, which continues to expand its pomegranate acreage by replacing dried-up apple orchards with pomegranates. Spain and Italy have invested big in recent years as well, aiming to feed a growing European demand, while China has invested the most.

While entering new landscapes such as California, Spain, and Kenya, pomegranates are an ancient fruit with a a deep history in Central Asia, Persia, the Middle East, and the Caucuses. Cookbook author Feride Buyuran is from Azerbaijan, which is like being from all of those places at once. From an early age, she saw pomegranates everywhere.

“In front yards, in backyards, and randomly even in parks, she says. “They’re cheaper than apples. There are dozens of pomegranate varieties, some sweet, others tangy, some with dark ruby arils, others with light pink and even white.”

The arils, of course, are the fleshy seeds inside that tough-skinned, angular sphere. And there are many ways to get them out. A peeled pomegranate looks like the world’s biggest and most delicious freshly cut jewel, but takes a little work.

Buyuran’s website, http://www.azcookbook.com, has a video in which she demonstrates how to quickly remove the arils by cutting along the membranes that run between the arils, rather than through them. She then swats the arils from their clingy membranes with a wooden spoon.

Buyuran has also posted a recipe for a dish called narnumru, from her new book Pomegranates and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan. It’s basically fried eggs atop fried pomegranate arils, which burst open in the pan’s heat and steam the egg sunny side up in the covered pan. It’s a shocking dish, both visually and intellectually. But in your mouth, it all makes perfect sense.

She starts with a half-cup chopped onion in a pan with butter and a little olive oil. When the onions are translucent, she adds two cups of arils (for two eggs), and fries them for a few minutes, before cracking the eggs on top, and covering briefly. 

Everyone in my house thought the idea of frying eggs on pomegranate arils would be awful—even those who professed to love both pomegranate and egg. I made a batch, personalized with bacon and browned bits of deer meat prior to the addition of onions. The haters were all wrong, of course. And they never got to find out how wrong they were, because I ate it all.

Then I began stir-frying meat with pomegranate seeds, onions and garlic, while playing around with various spice mixtures from pomegranate country. Egyptian dukkah was a standout.

Soon enough, I was marinating meat in pomegranate juice, as Buyuran told me she does with kebabs. If you don’t have venison, any red meat, especially a strong-flavored meat like lamb or goat, is wonderful in a pomegranate juice marinade.

Buyuran also adds pomegranate juice to meat stew. Plain juice only, she emphasizes, unsweetened. Back home, she says, the “fresh juice is simmered for long hours to obtain pomegranate molasses, or nasharab, a prized condiment that is particularly enjoyed with grilled fish.”

By far, the simplest way to cook with pomegranate is to make what you are going to make, and then sprinkle fresh pomegranate seeds on it.

Don’t buy the seeds prepackaged; get them out yourself. Sprinkle them on salad, soup, meat, rice, breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert and see what works. There is no end to the ways we can use that bright juicy tang, balancing the fat in food with a burst of acid. In much the same way that a sip of coffee helps eggs, and wine helps prime rib, a pomegranate helps both. A handful belongs atop a bowl of linguini with creamy mushroom sauce, and also on your morning Cheerios.

That’s why, once you jump on board the pomegranate train, you stay on. Wherever it goes.

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