The Brightness of Pomegranates

In Israel for a few days, I’m hearing a lot about “the new Israeli cuisine.” From my perspective, it seems firmly rooted in Middle Eastern antecedents, with a healthy dose of California cool in the form of, mostly, great vegetables and occasionally great fruits as well.

Pomegranate, especially, shows up in lots of ways—and I don’t mean boiled-down pomegranate syrup, so-called molasses, but fresh pomegranate juice (delicious in a cocktail with cava and a splash of vodka) and crunchy tart-sweet pomegranate seeds. At his rustic home way up on the Lebanese border, Israel’s top chef Eres Komarovsky serves a beautiful veal carpaccio with a thick scattering of brilliant ruby pomegranate seeds on top.

It’s not always easy to find good pomegranates in U.S. markets. The best are deep crimson in color with a firm, unblemished surface, but I’m told that the paler ones—more of a golden color with a blush—are simply a different variety and may be just as ripe as the handsome red ones. In either case, pomegranates should feel heavy in your hand—lighter ones are dried up, an indication they were harvested long ago.

Once you’ve got them home, the trick is to open them. Persian-American food writer Najmieh Batmanglij taught me how to do this. Take an ordinary soup spoon and thump the pomegranate hard all over its surface. This will dislodge many of the bright seeds inside and make them easier to extract. Then with a sharp knife, score around the equator of the fruit and then score segments up or down to the poles—just like meridian (longitude) lines. Now you can extract each segment and shake it over a bowl to release the seeds. Pick out any bits of bitter white membrane that remain attached to the seeds, which are also called arils, so that the result is a bowlful of sparkling ruby jewels.

Each jewel, however, is actually a tiny sac of juice with a crisp seed in the center. To extract the juice, don’t even think about throwing them all in a food processor. (I don’t know if a juicer would work as I’ve never owned such a thing.) Instead, press the arils through a sieve, using the back of a spoon to work the juice out and leave the crunchy seeds behind. For a garnish, however, whole pomegranate seeds or arils will add texture and bright contrast to any dish. Try them as a garnish for plain roasted fish with a garlic-lemon-oil sauce, sprinkle them over a bowl of guacamole or breakfast yogurt (plain of course), or use them as Eres Komarovsky did, scattered liberally over a platter of meat or seafood carpaccio.

Or mix a cup of the juice with a half-cup of cava or prosecco and a shot of good vodka for a healthy antioxidant cocktail.

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