Pomegranate power The tangy syrup of this exotic fall fruit could be the hot food trend of the future

October 01, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

The fruity fragrance is tantalizing. (Is that raspberry? Persimmon?) The taste is just as mysteriously evocative. And unlike some trendy foods, the price is surprisingly reasonable. The fruity, tangy syrup called pomegranate molasses may very well be the hot condiment of the next decade, the balsamic vinegar of the '00s.

"It's one of those ingredients with lots of sex appeal," says chef and cookbook author Rozanne Gold.

Pomegranate molasses is the concentrated juice of the fall fruit prized in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries as a symbol of fertility and the new year. The syrup is used to add zest to the dishes of various Mideast cuisines, particularly Lebanese and Persian.

In 1994 Paula Wolfert introduced it to many American cooks with the publication of "The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean (HarperCollins; $30). Innovative restaurant chefs began incorporating it into their creations.

Locally, Peter Zimmer at Joy America, Mark Hofmann at Rothwells and Donna Crivello at Donna's at the BMA have all made use of it.

You won't find pomegranate molasses on your supermarket shelf, at least not yet. (It's available at most Middle Eastern markets and some other ethnic food stores.) And you won't find it sold in this country under that name any longer, because

technically it's not molasses. Look for "concentrated pomegranate juice."

What you'll get -- for around $3 for an 11-ounce bottle -- is the essence of fruit, so deeply red it's almost black.

One of the reasons food-trend watchers are betting on pomegranate molasses' future popularity is its versatility. It's made from tart pomegranates, not the variety we get in our grocery stores, so it isn't sweet. You can substitute it for lemon juice or vinegar in many recipes.

"I love the syrupy texture," says Zanne Stewart, executive food editor of Gourmet. "It does the same kind of thing in cooked foods that balsamic does. It adds acidity and a dark note that's wonderful, with the bonus of the texture."

* A tablespoon gives pizazz to stews, soups or tomato sauces.

xTC * You can mix it with soda water for a refreshing nonalcoholic drink.

* Create a variation on a kir royale by adding a few drops to champagne. Or use it in cocktails as you would grenadine (a pomegranate-flavored syrup).

* Add it to salad dressings and marinades in place of lemon juice or, yes, balsamic vinegar.

* Caramelize onions with a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses for an indefinable -- but luscious -- accent.

* Use it straight out of the bottle as a glaze for lamb, duck, chicken or seafood. Rozanne Gold recommends brushing pomegranate molasses on chunks of swordfish, then grilling them on skewers.

* Drizzle it on fruit salad, sorbet, even ice cream.

Here are some recipes to get you started:

Pork with sweet potatoes and apricots

Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter

4 center-cut or loin pork chops

L 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 -inch disks

1/2 cup dried apricots

1/4 cup chopped green onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or more to taste

salt to taste

In a large skillet with a lid, brown the chops on both sides in the butter over moderately high heat. Lower the heat, add the other ingredients, cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Uncover; remove the pork, sweet-potato slices and apricots to a warm serving plate. Over high heat boil the liquid, stirring, until it thickens very slightly. Taste and correct seasonings; it will be tart, not sweet. Pour the sauce over the meat, potatoes and apricots.

This recipe can easily be defatted by trimming the chops closely, eliminating the butter and browning the chops in a nonstick skillet. It will still have plenty of flavor.

Autumn salad

Serves 4

1/2 cup high-quality olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 head Boston lettuce, separated and washed

1 large, ripe avocado, peeled and sliced

2 ripe pears, sliced

2 ripe kiwi, peeled and sliced

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts

1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)

Make a dressing of the first three ingredients. Set aside. Place the lettuce in a bowl or divide it among four salad plates. Arrange the slices of avocado, pear and kiwi artistically on top. Just before serving, drizzle on the dressing and garnish with pistachio nuts and optional pomegranate seeds. (If pomegranate seeds aren't available, you may want to add chopped red bell pepper for color.)

Hot and sweet red pepper dip

Makes 3 cups

2 1/2 pounds red sweet peppers (about 4 large)

1 to 2 small hot chilies (such as jalapeno)

1 1/2 cups ground walnuts (about 6 ounces)

1/2 cup wheat crackers, crumbled

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

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