Fall – the season of thanks, transition, and my favorite – pomegranates. Almost nothing gets me more into the spirit of the season than a huge display of pomegranates. If you crave those juicy red, sweet-tangy seeds (“arils,” officially), now’s the time to stock up as the season is fairly short (September – February). Not only are pomegranates plentiful now, but also the price is reasonable, and the quality is ideal.
A good, ripe pomegranate should feel heavy, like it’s full of juice, and the skin should be firm and taut. The skin color varies from medium red to deep red with a fresh leather-like appearance. The darker the skin, the sweeter the fruit. While the red varieties are most common in the U.S., white varieties are also grown.
Since it just happens that November is National Pomegranate Month, this beautiful, delicious and symbolic fruit deserves a brief history lesson. Originating in modern-day Iran and northern India, and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region, the pomegranate represents abundance, fertility, good fortune and prosperity in many religions and cultures. The fruit has been a tradition in celebrations and religious holidays since ancient times. Interested in learning more? PomWonderful offers an audio history of an 8000-year love affair with the pomegranate from Mesopotamia to present day.
Let’s honor the splendor of these delicious red seeds today. First, they are healthy – loaded with antioxidants, and said to help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, and even fight off disease and the free radicals that can cause cancer.
Add the health benefits to the amazing taste and you have a pure celebration in your mouth with every bite. In fact, I love them so much that I’ll not only toss them on my morning yogurt and evening ice cream, but I also enjoy them by the spoonful throughout the day.
And we can’t deny how beautiful they are by themselves or sprinkled over a vegetable dish like sautéed spinach or broccoli rabe (rapini). Yes, they can be a lot of work to extract, and I’ve stained many a shirt over the years. You can buy them pre-packaged, of course, but you’ll pay a premium for that. Or you can drink pomegranate juice – but that’s not nearly as fulfilling unless mixed with vodka and lime juice!
I’ve discovered the best way to remove the seeds without splashing red pomegranate juice everywhere. Here’s how:
- Fill a medium bowl with water and set it in your sink
- Carefully cut the pomegranate in half (or quarters if you prefer)
- Underwater, extract the seeds from the white membrane
- Toss the membrane and remove the water from the seeds using a colander
Another popular technique is to cut the fruit in half and turn one half upside down in the palm of your hand. Take a mallet or another sturdy kitchen tool and whack the skin side of the pomegranate so the seeds fall out. Make sure your hand holding the fruit is above a bowl to catch the seeds as they come tumbling down.
Pomegranates aren’t a new fad for me. I’ve been savoring them my entire life. As a kid, my grandmother would add pomegranates to her spinach and walnut pies. And my mother would sprinkle them on platters of rice, lentils and hummus for decoration.
As I continued her cooking tradition, I became obsessed with those seeds, adding them to savory dishes like roasted butternut squash, acorn squash, even sweet potatoes. Pomegranates are just like garlic to me. They go with everything!
Here are a few recipes to help you get into the pomegranate season! One is simple and makes for a great snack or lunch, while the others are tasty side dish options.
Open Face PB&P Sandwich
- 1 slice of your favorite whole wheat or multigrain bread
- Your favorite peanut butter – almond butter is good too
- 2 tbsps of pomegranate seeds
Spread the peanut or almond butter on the bread slice. Top with the pomegranate seeds and enjoy!
Sauteed Broccoli Rabe (Rapini) – This is a great recipe from Simply Recipes, and I top it off with a sprinkle of you know what!
Roasted Butternut Squash with Pomegranates
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp of Herbes de Provence
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix squash, olive oil, herbs and garlic in a bowl. Place the squash on a baking sheet or in a shallow baking dish. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the squash is tender and slightly brown. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a platter and sprinkle pomegranate seeds for accent.
So this season, in honor of National Pomegranate Month, load up. The seeds keep refrigerated for a few weeks, and they will add festive color and taste to your holiday celebrations. And when you simply can’t eat another bite of pecan pie, reach for a heaping spoonful of these healthy, historic beauties.