Pondering pomegranates and tart-sweet prize inside

November 14, 2001|By Rob Kasper

I HAD BEEN seeing a lot of pomegranates on the network news. They were on trucks rolling toward Afghanistan, they were piled high in outdoor markets, and they were on the lunch menu along with yogurt, lamb and boiled rice when the Pakistani leaders met with the Taliban.

I was curious about this fruit with leathery skin and ruby seeds. I bought one at a produce stand in South Baltimore's Cross Street Market. This pomegranate probably hailed from California, but it was a crimson cousin of the fruit being eaten in Afghanistan.

I took the pomegranate home and studied it, trying to figure out how to open it. I knew I should proceed with caution. The prize was the jewellike seeds inside, but simply slicing the fruit open as if it were an orange could unleash a river of scarlet juice. I sought counsel from The Joy of Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 1997). It suggested using the underwater method of opening the fruit.

I sliced off the blossom end of the fruit. Then I scored the rind lengthwise in four or five places. Next I filled a large bowl with cold water and tossed the pomegranate in, letting it soak for five minutes.

Rolling up my sleeves, I held the pomegranate under water and went to work. I broke the fruit apart along the scored lines, pulling back the rind and separating the seeds from the pith. The seeds dropped to the bottom of the bowl, the rind and pith floated to the top.

I skimmed off the rind and pith, poured the seeds and water into a colander, then set the seeds out to dry on paper towels. The seeds were filled with a whitish pulp and an acid juice.

I picked up several and popped them in my mouth. It was an intriguing flavor, a mixture of tart and sweet. I ate several more. I could see how once you got the pomegranate habit, it would be hard to stop. Some seeds were sweeter and easier to chew than others. Several had leftover piths, which I spit out, like watermelon seeds.

I combed cookbooks looking for other things to do with pomegranate seeds. "They add texture, color and a burst of flavor to vegetable or fruit salads," wrote Elizabeth Schneider in Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables (William Morrow and Co., 1998). "They provide a lovely finish for soups," the book continued. "They point up the acidity of a sauce for meat or fowl; and look ravishing on fruit desserts, ice creams and tarts."

I also found several recipes that called for doses of something called pomegranate molasses. But when I looked up the recipe of how to make that sauce, I saw it called for extracting the juice from 10 pounds of pomegranates and mixing it with the juice of one pound of lemons and 1 cup of sugar. The molasses-making process took hours.

I decided to put my pomegranate seeds to simpler use. I went the salad route, using a recipe I found online at Mega-Zine. It called for mixing pomegranate seeds with toasted pine nuts and putting them in a salad.

It turned out to be a fine salad, with plenty of flavor and good crunch. The other night, as I looked for pomegranates on the network news, I also ate them in my supper salad.

Lettuce With Pomegranate and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

2 tablespoons pine nuts

10 spinach leaves, rinsed and trimmed

5 cups lettuce, torn

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place pine nuts in a skillet and toast them over moderate heat until golden-brown. Roll spinach leaves into a tight cigar and cut crosswise into 1/8 -inch slices. Combine lettuce and spinach in salad bowl. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to mix. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and lemon juice.

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