It wasn’t a crisp apple that tempted Eve, but a crimson pomegranate. Hades trapped dazzling Persephone in his underworld with a single jewel-toned, juicy pomegranate seed. In ancient Israel, scouts presented Moses with pomegranates as proof of a Promised Land. The Qur’an tells of gardens of paradise, bountiful with sweet pomegranates.
In the Tamil language, the word for pomegranate is maadulampazham. It comes from maadhu (woman) and ullam (mind) — “woman’s mind.” As one must dissect the spongy pith to unearth the pomegranate’s seeds, it is not always easy to decipher a woman’s mind. Apparently.
It’s not that hard, really, to unearth the ruby goodness from the fruit’s tough exterior. I place the pomegranate stem-side down, pop off the crown with a paring knife, score the sides to create wedges (cut through the rind and pith, try to avoid bursting the seeds), and pop open the fruit open into chunks. Then, have at it.
Let your eyes feast. You get it — why the pomegranate means fertility, sex, passion, promise, and bounty. Beware: the blood-red juice will stain your countertops and your hands. They will pop defiantly in your mouth, a crunch yielding to sweet-tart juice. The seeds are abundant, powerful, and beautiful. They are secret, mysterious. They tantalize. Always, you want more.
Right now, this very moment, is the height of their season. Sorry, locavores. This exotic fruit does not hail from around here. We import the beauties from India, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. But you won’t miss the displays at Whole Foods, Fairway, and Trader Joe’s. Even my fruit cart guy has painfully pretty pomegranates these days.
I like food that takes a little effort; the ritual of opening, picking, and devouring old bay doused crabs in Maryland on newspaper-covered tables; peeling a fragrant, sunshine-colored grapefruit in the depths of dark winter; plucking the last seeds from my pomegranate, maybe on a comfy couch, something wonderful or trashy on the TV. They’re so packed with antioxidants (more than in red wine, or green tea!), vitamins (C and K), fiber, and potassium — and so low in calories — that you can feel totally virtuous about stuffing your lovely face.
If you don’t devour the whole thing then and there, whip up a little pomegranate something. Put your sexy fruit to good use:
Herby Quinoa with Feta & Pomegranate
So simple. A great weeknight meal or lunch. Cook quinoa according to the package directions, then fold in creamy feta, diced red onion, and whatever herbs you have around (parsley! mint!). Dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, which have the power to make any dish gorgeous. Add some pine nuts or almonds, too, if you like.
Spinach Salad with Gorgonzola, Pear, & Pomegranate
Dress spinach leaves with good olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and a splash of champagne or apple cider vinegar. Toss with slivered ripe pear and crumbled gorgonzola (or any blue cheese you love). Strew your pomegranate seeds atop. Salad perfection.
Chocolate Oatmeal Pomegranate Cookies
I’m going to cheat and just tell you to make whatever oatmeal raisin cookie recipe you like. I’m a fan of the one on the back of the oatmeal canister. Nix the raisins, and replace them with a cup of dark chocolate chunks and a cup of pomegranate seeds. You will win cookie fame and glory for these. The seeds keep their poppy crunch when you bake them, and they’re stunning, of course.