Pomegranates are filled with seeds of inspiration Fruit: These round red globes add a sweet and tart taste to main dishes, salads and desserts -- all at the same time.

February 12, 1997|By Mary Carroll | Mary Carroll,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Pomegranates start appearing in the stores around the end of November, and their sweet-tart taste brightens the earth tones of winter foods through the end of February.

My biggest challenge when first using pomegranates was how to open and seed them without getting crimson stains on everything. A friend with more pomegranate experience finally showed me the proper way to open one and clean the tart seeds from their white membrane.

She immersed the fruit in a large mixing bowl of water. Then she broke the pomegranate open and pulled the seeds out underwater. After a few minutes' work, the pomegranate seeds lay neatly at the bottom of the bowl; the skin and membrane floated on top.

After I learned how to easily open a pomegranate, I began experimenting with cooking it. I scattered pomegranate seeds in salads and pureed them for bright dessert sauces. They were sweet and tangy all at once, lending an unusual quality to anything they topped. They worked especially well in spicy or savory vegetable dishes, like the baked eggplant recipe below.

Also called Chinese apples, or "the apple of many seeds," pomegranates are actually of the berry family (which makes sense when you see the interior of one).

Pomegranates are thought to have originated in ancient Persia. Many myths surround the fruit, including the story of Persephone who was taken by Hades, god of the underworld. Because she had eaten some pomegranate seeds, she could only be partially released from captivity.

Classic couscous dishes of the Middle East often contain pomegranates. The juice was fermented by the ancient Egyptians into a flavorful wine, and Lebanese cooks make a molasses from it. Fairly nutritious, pomegranates provide potassium and vitamin C to the winter diet.

Enjoy them now during their short season. When buying pomegranates, look for larger ones that feel heavy in the hand -- the best indicator of plenty of juice. Unopened, they keep for three months in the refrigerator. The seeds can also be separated and frozen in plastic bags or containers.

I loved the highly seasoned sauce of this Lebanese eggplant dish when I first tried it at a friend's home. The recipe is from Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean" (HarperCollins, 1994). I've adapted it to lower the fat and simplified it a bit from the original.

Eggplant with garlic and pomegranate sauce

Makes 6 servings

2 large Japanese eggplants, unpeeled

2 tablespoons olive oil, warmed

2 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons shredded fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Slice eggplant into 1/2 -inch ovals and place on oiled baking sheets. Brush both sides using 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake 12 minutes at 425 degrees. Turn slices and bake 10 to 12 minutes more or until golden brown. Transfer slices to shallow serving dish, overlapping slightly.

Combine maple syrup, lemon juice, garlic, salt, mint, parsley and pomegranate seeds and pour over eggplant. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let come to room temperature before serving.

This colorful fruit salad is an exotic way to open a winter meal. Serve it on a bed of crisp lettuce.

Pomegranate, citrus and kiwi salad

Makes 4 servings

lettuce leaves

2 cups tangerine sections, chopped

1 cup pink grapefruit sections, chopped

2 cups peeled and sliced kiwi

seeds from 1 pomegranate

1 teaspoon olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons mild honey

Arrange lettuce leaves on 4 individual salad plates. Top with tangerine, grapefruit and kiwi.

Combine pomegranate seeds, oil, lemon juice and honey in small bowl. Mix well and spoon on top of fruit.

This pomegranate gelatin dessert was inspired by cookbook author Elizabeth Schneider. The ruby color and tangy flavor make it a hit with kids as well as adults.

Pomegranate and grape sweet aspic

Makes 6 servings

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

3 cups white grape juice

1 cup seedless green grapes, halved

3 tablespoons fresh pomegranate seeds

Combine gelatin and 1 cup grape juice in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until gelatin is completely dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Pour into medium bowl. Add remaining 2 cups juice. Place bowl in larger bowl of ice and water until partially set, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gelatin will be lumpy and thick.

Using rubber spatula, gently fold in grapes and pomegranate seeds. Pour into 6 dessert glasses. Chill until firm.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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