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Cooking With Pomegranates

Throw a fest for a dozen guests

Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page M10

The crown-topped pomegranate has suddenly become the darling of the Western dining table. Television has featured it (in lifestyle shows, cooking programs and even a cameo appearance on "Sex and the City"), the media have devoured it (from Oprah Winfrey to Time magazine), and chefs from the East Coast to the West are flavoring their foods with it.

In my new cookbook, "Pomegranates" (Ten Speed Press, December 2004), I celebrate this storied fruit. The allure of the pomegranate has captured cultures throughout history, both real and imaginary. The ancient Egyptians included it in their tombs to ensure safe passage to the next world. And the Chinese gave wedding gifts with images of pomegranates to promote a fruitful union; understandably, the round shape and myriad seeds have come to represent fertility and bounty.


(Photos Josef Salis, Courtesy Of Ten Speed Press)

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Pomegranates also offer an abundance of nutritional benefits. While folk medicine has long promoted the fruit -- finding healing uses for the juice, seeds and rind -- recent research has caused scientists to clear off their counters and bring on the pomegranate. Forget red wine and green tea, for instance -- the healthy benefits to the cardiovascular system from pomegranate juice are said to far outweigh those of all other drinks.

But beyond the history and science: Pomegranates taste great. Those little kernels of seed surrounded by flavorful scarlet flesh (called arils) are a delightful addition to all kinds of delicacies, whether used as a garnish, as a drink, or in concentrated syrup form as an integral part of a dish's composition.

Here, I present a recipe that's perfect for the holiday table: kumquat, cranberry and pomegranate relish, a colorful pairing for dinner meats or companion to a cheese board (especially nice are relish with a Stilton or good sharp cheddar). Kumquats add the exotic, cranberries the familiar and pomegranate seeds the surprise ending.

Reprinted with permission from "Pomegranates," by Ann Kleinberg. Photography by Josef Salis. © 2004. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif.

How to seed a pomegranate: It's best to undertake this operation while standing over a sink (and wearing an apron). If you have a large bowl with a colander that fits inside, you're all set: • Cut off the crown end of the pomegranate, slicing close to the edge of the rind and trying not to damage the seeds inside. • Score the rind from top to bottom all the way around, creating four or five sections, but don't let the knife penetrate to the inside. Using both thumbs to secure the bottom of the pomegranate, wrap your hands around the fruit with your fingers at the cut crown end and pull the sections apart. Be careful -- this is when it tends to squirt, so make sure the opening faces down into the colander. • Some of the seeds will fall out naturally. Others will need a bit of coaxing. Hold a section of the fruit, pull out a cluster of seeds (which are encased in a honeycomb of pith that looks and feels like tissue paper), and coax the seeds out with your fingers. Repeat with the remaining clusters. • If you want to have more fun, take a wooden meat pounder or large spoon and, while holding the section with the cut side facing the palm of your hand, give a couple of whacks to the back of the pomegranate (take care that you don't hit your hand!). That should be enough to send the seeds hurtling into the colander. • If pieces of pith remain among the seeds, remove these by filling the bowl with enough water to cover the seeds. The pith will naturally float to the top and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Using a slotted spoon, scoop up and discard all the little white pieces. Then pick up the colander and let the water drain out. • An average pomegranate yields about 3/4 cup seeds. These can be refrigerated for one to two weeks or frozen for up to six months. Spread them out on a flat tray or put them in a plastic bag, and refrigerate or freeze. Once frozen and thawed, use immediately -- thawed seeds have a tendency to bleed and disintegrate when rechilled.

Pom-Cranberry Relish

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 cups kumquats (about 1 1/2 pints), pitted and sliced into quarters

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon salt


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