It is impossible to crack into a big, ruby-colored pomegranate and not be struck by the sheer beauty of it.
Forget the lowly apple. I’m certain the forbidden fruit was a pomegranate.
Inside the bulb-shaped Punica granatum are sacs of tiny, sparkly seeds (technically called “arils”). They are prized both for their sweet-tart, wine-colored juice and the burst of flavor they impart to exotic dishes around the world, from the Middle East to Mexico.
When I split open a soft-ball-size California pomegranate with its cute heart-shaped POM Wonderful sticker on the skin, my mind breezes back to my grandmother’s house in South Georgia. Her wraparound front porch was nearly overgrown with palmetto fans. Scrunched up next to the sunny western side of the house stood one lonely pomegranate tree.
Every year around this time, we would smash into the fruit and look at it in wonder. But I don’t remember seeing a single aril the table, not even in the bowls of heavenly orange-and-coconut ambrosia that graced our holiday meals.
For me, even today, pomegranates remain the stuff of myth and mystery.
They evoke Greek fables and Botticelli paintings. Bubbling vats of Persia’s walnut-pomegranate stew (fesenjan). And Mexico’s supremely rich chiles en nogada (poblano peppers stuffed with aromatic, fruit-and-nut-studded picadillo, ladled over with luscious walnut sauce and finished with pomegranate seeds).
Of course, pomegranates have myriad everyday uses. They are lovely in smoothies. With yogurt and granola. Flecked on cheesecake. Squeezed into cocktails. Sprinkled on ice cream.
When I started to research recipes for this article, I was drawn to pomegranate seeds in their freshest form, and everywhere I looked I saw salads.
The POM Wonderful people put me on to the Pomegranate, Mandarin and Endive Salad with Pecans and Fresh Goat Cheese by Gerry Klaskala, executive chef and owner of Buckhead’s Aria.
I flipped through “Deep Run Roots” (Little, Brown, $40), the new book by North Carolina chef and PBS star Vivian Howard, and espied a perfect fall salad: Brussels Sprouts, Apples and Pomegranate with Blue Cheese Honey Vinaigrette.
I went to a dinner by Asheville, N.C., chef Katie Button at the Atlanta Basque restaurant Cooks & Soldiers, only to see that she had made a delightful Endive Salad with Walnuts, Pomegranate, and Blue Cheese, from her new cookbook, “Curate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen” (Flatiron Books, $35.)
The simple yet elegant dish is gently dressed with roasted walnut oil vinaigrette and sprinkled with candied walnuts and pomegranate arils. “I had to toss in some pomegranate seeds because they’re among my favorite winter fruits,” Button writes. “They offer a bright, sweet pop when few other fresh fruits are in season.”
All these beauties — or the Apple, Sumac, Red Onion and Pomegranate Salad from Sabrina Ghayour’s “Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors from the Middle East” (Clarkson Potter, $30) — are quick, easy, healthy dishes to make right now, on the cusp of the caloric overload of the holidays.
They’d also make a perfect accompaniment to put out on the holiday table from Thanksgiving until Persian New Year in spring.
I don’t know why my grandmother never used the pomegranates that flourished by her house. I feel like we wasted something precious all those years. But now that pomegranates are filling up farmers markets and grocery-store produce departments, I’m making up for lost time.
Pomegranate salads for fall
Here are three recipes for eye-popping salads that are both healthy and easy to make, now or during the holidays.
To remove pomegranate seeds from the fruit, score the skin as if you are cutting it into quarters. (Or slice it in half.) Submerge in a large bowl of water, and break it open. The seeds will sink to the bottom, and the membranes will float to the top.
Brussels Sprouts, Apples and Pomegranate with Blue Cheese Honey Vinaigrette
We found this beautiful season salad in the new cookbook by North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, host of the PBS series “A Chef’s Life.” While most lettuces start to wilt soon after they are dressed, the Brussels sprouts are fresh and resilient. Dress the salad about 30 minutes before you plan to eat, and it will be perfect. If you are planning a big meal and need a game plan, prepare the Brussels sprouts and make the dressing the day ahead. Cover and chill in separate bowls until ready to assemble the salad.
For the vinaigrette
½ cup high-quality blue cheese such as Maytag, broken into crumbles
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup grape seed or sunflower oil
For the salad
15 large Brussels sprouts
3 medium Fuji or other crisp, sweet eating apples
Juice of 1 lemon
4 radishes, cut into eighths
3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup blue cheese
2 tablespoons torn mint leaves
½ cup pomegranate seeds
To make the vinaigrette: In a medium bowl whisk together the blue cheese, lemon juice, cider vinegar, honey, salt and black pepper until the blue cheese is broken up and the liquid appears creamy. Then slowly whisk in the oil and set aside.
To make the salad: Slice the stem end off the Brussels sprouts, and separate the sprouts into individual leaves. Set aside. Just before building the salad, dice the apples and toss them with the lemon juice. To the apples add the radishes, Brussels sprouts, scallions, salt and ¾ cup vinaigrette. (Be sure to give the vinaigrette another quick whisk before adding.)
Let the salad sit for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes before serving. Just before you do, top with the mint, pomegranate seeds, and another drizzle of dressing. Serves: 6
— Adapted from “Deep Run Roots: Stories & Recipes from My Corner of the South” by Vivian Howard (Little, Brown, $40)
Per serving: 377 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 7 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 20 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 1,369 milligrams sodium.
Pomegranate, Mandarin and Endive Salad with Pecans and Fresh Goat Cheese
This knockout, from Gerry Klaskala, executive chef and owner of Aria in Buckhead, incorporates pomegranates two ways: in the vinaigrette and sprinkled on the finished salad. When you peel and section the mandarins, be sure to catch the juices over a bowl to use in the dressing. A note on the pomegranate molasses: You only need 1 tablespoon of the syrup for dressing, so feel free to cook a smaller batch. That said, it tastes wonderful, and can be stored in the fridge and used for salad dressings, marinades, or drizzled over just about anything, including pancakes. You can even pour it in little glass bottles and present as gifts. My friends were thrilled.
For the molasses
3 cups pomegranate juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 lemon, juiced
For the dressing
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon shallots, minced
Juice of three mandarins (be sure to save the sectioned fruit to use on the salad)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
For the salad
1 head Belgian endive
1 head red endive (if you can’t find red endive, use regular or substitute another red-leaf lettuce, like treviso)
3 mandarins, peeled and sectioned (membranes squeezed, juice reserved for dressing)
¼ cup fresh pomegranate seeds
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pecans, lightly toasted
¼ cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled
To make the molasses: Place pomegranate juice, granulated sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and reduce the mixture, stirring occasionally and scraping down the sides of the pot with a spatula, until a very thick syrup forms, about 30 minutes. (The syrup should be reduced to about one-third of the original amount, or about 1 cup.) Allow to cool to room temperature.
To make the dressing: In a small bowl whisk together 1 tablespoon of the pomegranate molasses, shallots, juice from the mandarins and lemon juice. Add salt and slowly whisk in grape seed oil.
To build the salad: In a large bowl, toss the endive, the mandarin sections and pomegranate seeds. Gently toss with just enough dressing to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Top with crumbled fresh goat cheese and toasted pecans. Serves: 4
Per serving: 254 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 6 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 364 milligrams sodium.
Apple, Sumac, Red Onion and Pomegranate Salad
Pomegranates are widely used in the Mideast, and British-Iranian cookbook author Sabrina Ghayour has a couple of terrific salads using the pomegranate seeds in her new cookbook, “Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors from the Middle East” (Clarkson Potter, $30). This one is incredibly easy to make; the sumac adds a subtle, unexpected and exotic note.
4 Braeburn apples
olive oil, for drizzling
Juice of 1 large lemon
3 teaspoons coarsely ground sumac
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced into half-moons
flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Leaving the skin on, roughly dice the apples into 1/2-inch cubes, discarding cores and seeds. Place the apples in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with some olive oil, add lemon juice and toss to coat. (This will prevent the apples from turning brown.)
Add sumac and red onion, and mix well. Season with just a little salt and pepper. Add pomegranate seeds and mint, and toss to combine. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to eat. Serves: 6
— Adapted from “Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors from the Middle East” by Sabrina Ghayour (Clarkson Potter, $30)
Per serving: 141 calories (percent of calories from fat, 32), 1 gram protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 24 milligrams sodium.