Pomegranates: Jewels In The Fruit Crown Loaded with healthy antioxidants and vitamins, pomegranates are the new superfood. The ancient fruit with a rich history has many uses. Bonny Wolf shares some of her favorites.

Pomegranates: Jewels In The Fruit Crown

Scientists say the leathery-skinned fruit with the sweet-tart juice may help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging. Scroll down for tasty ways to enjoy the new superfood. David S. Deutsch hide caption

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David S. Deutsch

Scientists say the leathery-skinned fruit with the sweet-tart juice may help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging. Scroll down for tasty ways to enjoy the new superfood.

David S. Deutsch

Nigella Lawson calls this pomegranate confection "an open jewel-case of a cake." David S. Deutsch hide caption

toggle caption
David S. Deutsch

Nigella Lawson calls this pomegranate confection "an open jewel-case of a cake."

David S. Deutsch

Removing The Seeds

Cut the crown end off the pomegranate, then lightly score the skin from top to bottom in quarters.

Immerse the fruit in a bowl of cool water and soak for a minute or two. Hold the fruit under water (which prevents juice from spattering) and break sections apart.

Next, separate seeds from the rind and membrane. Seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl; rind and membrane will float. Skim off and discard the rind and membrane.

Drain seeds, then pat dry. (At some markets, you can buy containers of seeds that someone else has extricated.)

About the Author

Bonny Wolf is Kitchen Window's contributing editor and a commentator on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. Her book of food essays, Talking with My Mouth Full, is out in stores. You can find more information at her Web site, www.bonnywolf.com.

The pomegranate is the fruit du jour.

There's pomegranate juice, vodka, salad dressing, ice cream, salsa, lollipops and gummy bears. You can put pomegranate essence in your hair (conditioning rinse) or on your skin (cream and perfume). In the last few years, hundreds of new pomegranate products have come on the market.

The pomegranate is an ancient fruit with a rich history in myth, symbol, art, medicine and religion. It has always been an important part of the Middle Eastern diet. Until recently, however, pomegranates were something of a seasonal novelty in the West. Then medical studies suggested what the ancients believed and Middle Easterners probably take for granted: Pomegranates are really good for you. And thus, instant celebrity.

Scientists say the leathery-skinned, orange-sized fruit with the sweet-tart juice may help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging. It's loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, folic acid and iron. Pomegranates are the new superfood. Green tea and red wine, which have fewer antioxidants than pomegranates, are yesterday's health news.

The popularity of pomegranates, which are native to Iran, may have been delayed in the West because it is such a labor-intensive fruit. Beneath its tough but thin skin, each pomegranate holds hundreds of tiny seeds encased in translucent ruby pulp. Bitter, inedible membranes hold the seeds, and getting the seeds out can be a struggle -- although it doesn't have to be (see left).

Since the pomegranate's health profile has risen, though, more people are willing to make the effort. And what they find is a fruit with many uses. The seeds can be sprinkled into a green salad for color and crunch, or used in baked goods, soups, sauces and ice cream. You also can just put a bunch of them in a bowl to use as a centerpiece.

Most U.S. pomegranates are grown in California, and they're in season right now. Look for fruit that is heavy for its size and has bright, unblemished skin. Pomegranates can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two months, or in a cool, dark place for up to a month.

Pomegranates are the fruit of a small, bushy tree and are used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking. One of the most famous pomegranate dishes is the traditional Persian fesenjan, a stew of duck or chicken, pomegranates and walnuts. Like many Middle Eastern dishes, fesenjan calls for pomegranate juice or syrup. Once available only in ethnic markets, such products now are found in more mainstream markets.

In her book In a Persian Kitchen, Maida Mazdeh writes, "I always connect fesenjan with the winter season. Grandmother used to say, 'Fesenjan is hot, therefore one shouldn't eat it in summer time.' Persians divide food into two categories … some foods should be eaten in summer time because they have a cooling effect and others should be eaten in winter because they have a warming effect."

Pomegranate soup is one way to enjoy the fruit's warming effects; it uses either the juice or seeds.

One of the earliest cultivated fruits, the pomegranate has been traced back as far as 3,000 B.C. Some scholars even suggest that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that tempted Eve.

In their long history, pomegranates have been linked to health, fertility and rebirth. They figure prominently in many religions and are found in art and literature.

King Tut and other ancient Egyptians, for example, were buried with pomegranates in hopes of a second life. The fruits are said to have been a favorite of the prophet Muhammad, and in Islam, the gardens of paradise hold pomegranates.

In the Judeo-Christian Bible, Moses tells the Israelites they are going to a land of pomegranates (among other things.) Paintings often show the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus holding a pomegranate. The Greek goddess Persephone's taste for the pomegranate resigned her to several months a year in the underworld.

Pomegranates are mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, and Juliet tells Romeo the night is young since it is the nightingale -- and not the lark -- that is "singing in yon pomegranate tree."

No wonder the pomegranate wears its own little crown.

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Pomegranate Soup

David S. Deutsch
Pomegranate Soup
David S. Deutsch

This is a popular winter soup in Iran. In her book, In a Persian Kitchen (Charles E. Tuttle Co. 1960), from which the following recipe is adapted, Maideh Mazda writes: "When pomegranates are in season, the Persian housewife wouldn't hesitate to serve this soup to her family several times a month." Her recipe includes 1/3 cup of sugar that I left out. This pale pink soup is scented with mint and cinnamon. It only improves with age.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1/2 pound ground beef

1 small onion, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus to taste

8 cups water

1/2 cup rice

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped

1 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup scallions, chopped

1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds or 1cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon dried mint

Lime juice, to taste (optional)

Put the meat in a bowl. Add onion, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt and mix well. Make meatballs the size of walnuts.

Put water in a 3-quart pot and bring to a boil. Add a dash of salt and rice and cook for 15 minutes; add spinach, parsley and scallions and cook for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove seeds from fresh pomegranate until you have about 1 1/2 cups (or substitute pomegranate juice). Add pomegranate seeds and meatballs to the soup and let cook for another 20 minutes on a low heat, or until the meat is done.

Rub dried mint in the palm of your hands over a small bowl to make it powdery. Add remaining cinnamon and pepper to the mint. Add this to the soup just before removing from the heat.

Taste soup, and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Pomegranate Jewel Cake

David S. Deutsch
Pomegranate Cake
David S. Deutsch

This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast (Hyperion 2004). She calls it "an open jewel-case of a cake." This beautiful, flourless cake uses ground almonds, so the texture is somewhat rough.

Serves 10

8 eggs

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

3 cups ground almonds

2 pomegranates, 1 juiced and 1 seeded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line with parchment paper a 9-inch spring form pan.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large bowl, and the yolks into a separate bowl. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff but not dry and then whisk in a half-cup of sugar before putting bowl aside.

Add the remaining cup of sugar and zest to the yolks and beat until the mixture is light and airy, then beat in the ground almonds. This will be very thick and heavy, so lighten it with a good dollop of whisked egg whites before folding the rest of them into the thick, yellow almond mixture. It's easiest to fold in the remaining egg whites in thirds. You need to work firmly, but gently, so everything is combined without the mixture losing its air.

Pour into the lined and greased pan and bake about 40 minutes, though check at 30 minutes, as you don't want this to scorch. If the cake is brown enough, but still gooey in the middle, loosely cover with a sheet of aluminum foil.

When the cake comes out of the oven, pour the juice of one pomegranate over the cake while it is still hot and in the pan. Let the cake cool and absorb the pomegranate juice and leave until cold before removing the sides of the pan. Place the cake on a serving plate and cover with pomegranate seeds.

Khoreshteh Fesenjan

This recipe for sweet-and-sour chicken, pomegranate and walnut stew is adapted from Joan Nathan's The New American Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf 2005). It is one version of the traditional Persian dish. Serve with rice.

Serves 6 to 8

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 pound walnuts

10 chicken thighs, with the bones, skin and fat removed

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons ketchup

1/3 cup pomegranate juice, concentrate or syrup

Small pinch of saffron

4 cups water

Saute onion in olive oil in a medium pot until light golden brown.

Pulse, not puree, walnuts in a food processor, using a steel blade. The walnuts should have some crunch.

Add the chicken, walnuts, salt, lemon juice, sugar, ketchup, pomegranate juice, saffron and water to the onion. The chicken pieces do not have to be in a single layer, as long as they are covered with sauce.

Bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pot loosely. Cook for an hour at a slow and constant simmer, stirring occasionally.