Fall means pomegranates are in season

October 7, 2022

We’ve entered the season of the pomegranate, sometimes called the jewel of autumn. Found in markets from September through December, this red-skinned fruit is one of the most labor-intensive to consume. About the size of a large orange, pomegranates have a distinctive crown and thin, leathery skin. Inside are bitter, fibrous membranes holding hundreds of seeds in tight pockets.

The seeds are the prize and well worth the effort to release them. The first time I was introduced to a pomegranate, my college roommate had me change into my red sweatshirt and ratty pajama bottoms. Then she demonstrated how to wrestle the seeds from the pith, both of us snacking on the tiny morsels of juicy sweetness, and staining our fingers and faces red.

Since then, I have learned a few things about pomegranates. They have been cherished for their beauty, flavor and health benefits for centuries. Some believe this fruit, not the apple, is what started all the fuss in the Garden of Eden. That may explain why this native fruit of Persia (present-day Iran) is symbolic of fertility, prosperity and abundance in almost every civilization.

When selecting pomegranates, choose those that feel heavy for their size, an indication of juiciness. The colors can be various shades of red, but be sure to avoid any that are wizened or punctured. Fresh pomegranates can be stored in the refrigerator for up to several weeks. Once the seeds are removed, they should be used within a few days or can be frozen in zip-top bags.

Another feature of the pomegranate is its potential use as a decoration during the winter holidays. If you don’t store it in the refrigerator because you don’t plan to eat the juicy arils (seeds), it will dry out. All the moisture will leave the spongy pith and the sweet pulp of the seeds. After a few months, you will have bright-red balls that can be shaken and rattled to accompany your favorite song.

On the other hand, if you’d like to harvest the seeds, there’s a much easier way. Score the skin into quarters lengthwise and hold the pomegranate beneath the surface in a large bowl of water. Tug open the skin and separate the quarters. Still under water, use your fingers to pry the seeds from the pith. By the time you’ve finished, the lighter pith will have floated to the top and the seeds will be on the bottom. Skim off the pith, then catch the seeds by pouring the water through a strainer.

Pomegranate seeds are typically used to garnish a dish, as in the ruby arils scattered over the spinach salad in the photo. Because the seeds are so small, juicing them would be a great deal of work. Fortunately, the solution to this challenge is found on grocers’ shelves: bottles of pomegranate juice on its own or mixed with all sorts of other fruit juices.

Another variation is the Mediterranean ingredient known as pomegranate molasses. This is a syrupy reduction with a rich, tart flavor. I’ve included a recipe for pomegranate vinaigrette that calls for the molasses to add a sharp edge and sweet hint of flavor. The chicken and lamb dishes feature a mural of flavors that highlight the heady pomegranate. And, for those of you looking for pomegranate-based adult beverages, you might try adding a splash of Pama liqueur to your next cocktail.

Pomegranate Spinach Salad

10 oz baby spinach

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 C crumbled feta cheese

1 T Pomegranate molasses

1 T lemon juice

1 T Balsamic vinegar

2 T olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste

seeds of 1/2 pomegranate

Rinse and drain the spinach; place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle with sliced onions and feta cheese. Whisk together pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss to combine. Season to taste and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Chicken

1 C pomegranate juice

1 T pomegranate molasses

1/4 C red wine vinegar

1/4 C olive oil

1 t ground ginger

4 crushed garlic cloves

1/4 t paprika

1 t salt

1/4 t black pepper

2 lbs bone-in chicken breasts

2 sliced green onions

2 T pomegranate seeds

Combine pomegranate juice, molasses, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper in a zip-top bag. Add chicken pieces and seal. Massage bag to coat chicken with marinade. Refrigerate for 2 hours, turning once. Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer in a glass baking dish; pour marinade over chicken. Bake, uncovered, until chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Serve with roasted sweet potatoes, garnished with sliced green onion and pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Lamb Stew

1 large onion

1/4 C olive oil

2 lbs cubed lamb

1 1/2 C chicken stock

1/4 C pomegranate molasses

2 cups finely chopped walnuts

1 t pepper

1 T kosher salt

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t turmeric

1/2 t ground cardamom

2 T lemon juice

Slice onion and sauté in olive oil in a large frying pan until softened. Stir in cubed lamb and sauté until well browned, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine stock, molasses and walnuts in a small saucepan; heat over low, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

Once lamb is cooked, drain off fat. Stir in pepper, salt, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and lemon juice; simmer for 5 minutes. Pour sauce over lamb and simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes. Serve over Basmati rice.

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