Baja Cooking on the Edge
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Deb's Writings



Crack into a ripe pomegranate and you open up a Byzantine jewel box of juicy, ruby faceted seeds, packed tightly into white-hulled chambers. This wealth of seeds gives the pomegranate its ancient prestige as a symbol of wealth and fertility, but also poses tactical challenges for those who would attempt to eat it. Americans (with the exception of children) are often at a loss about what to do with this somewhat awkward, messy fruit. But pomegranates are well worth the work, and can become a little addictive.

Pomegranates originated in Iran and are immensely popular throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, India and China. The brilliant ruby-colored juice and crunchy seeds add color and tart-sweet flavor to salads, drinks and many traditional dishes such as Persian fesenjan, a chicken stew made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

Pomegranate molasses, which is available in Middle Eastern markets, is merely the juice reduced to sweetly tangy, potent syrup with a flavor reminiscent of ripe raspberries.

omegranate juice is now readily available in supermarkets (Pomi brand.) It can be substituted for citrus juice in any recipe for vinaigrettes, marinades, sorbets and drinks, while the bright seeds will give a jolt of color to salads and fruit tarts.

The two trees in the garden next to my house were planted in the 1920’s. The trees themselves are gnarled and wispy, but every November they put forth a huge crop of enormous, leathery-skinned fruit which glow red among the sparse leaves like Chinese lanterns – a lovely sight on a fall day. Commercial crops will make their annual appearance in farmer’s markets and local backyards through late December.

Cracking the Pomegranate

Choose large, heavy dark-red fruit. The skin should be leathery but clean. A crack or two in the skin shows the fruit is ripe, but avoid any that have mold in the cracked areas.

To dismember a pomegranate, first of all remember not to wear white. Fill a bowl with cold water. Wash the pomegranate well, then stick a sharp knife halfway through the fruit and twist the knife until the fruit cracks open. Use your fingers to pry the seeds out of the shell, and drop them into the bowl; some people do this whole process underwater. Continue to break the seeds apart. The white membranes will float, and the seeds will sink. Discard all floaters and drain the cleaned seeds.

A single pomegranate the size of a baseball will yield about one cup of seeds, which in turn will give about ½ cup of juice.

To make juice: place the cleaned seeds in a food processor with a very small amount of water (1/4 cup of water to 1 cup seeds) Grind mercilessly; add more seeds once the juice gets going. Strain through a cheesecloth bag, or large sieve. The juice can be frozen.

Spicy Pomegranate Grilled Chicken

Tart pomegranate and spicy cayenne are a perfect foil for juicy, dark meat chicken. Leave the skin on- it helps keeps the meat moist during cooking and crisps up deliciously on the grill. Serves 4

8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Method: Combine all marinade ingredients in a large re-sealable plastic bag. Mix well and add the chicken. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least eight hours, or as long as 12 hours. Preheat grill or oven to 375 degrees. Cook chicken skin-side down on a lightly oiled hot BBQ grill, turning when skin is browned. Turn heat to low and close BBQ lid. (Alternatively, cook uncovered in a 375 degree oven.) The chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, and the skin is crisp and dark brown.

Variation: Serve the chicken warm on a mixed salad, sprinkled with toasted almonds and a dusting of chopped cilantro.

Seasonal Fruit Salad With Honeyed Ricotta

For its impact, this simple salad depends on the best, ripest fruit available, set against salad greens with personality and a little creamy ricotta for contrast. The pomegranate dressing, made from pomegranate molasses, has a fruity-acid tang that complements all the different elements. If fresh pomegranates happen to be in season, finish each plate with a dazzling sprinkle of the seeds. Serves 4.

4 cups assorted salad greens, preferably a mix of colors and flavors (like radicchio, spinach, arugula, and butter lettuce) washed and turn into bite-sized pieces
Pomegranate Dressing (recipe follows)
2 cups ripe seasonal fruit such as melon, strawberries, pineapple, citrus or papaya, cut into one-inch cubes
1 1/3 cups good quality ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons honey
½ cup Pomegranate seeds, unsalted toasted Pepitas or sunflower seeds

Toss the salad greens with about ½ cup of the dressing, enough to coat them, and divide among 4 chilled salad plates. Mound the cubed fruit in the center of the plate. Top the fruit with a spoonful of ricotta cheese and drizzle a very little honey off the tines of a fork over the ricotta and fruit. Scatter the pomegranate seeds or other seeds over the salad. Serve immediately.

Pomegranate Dressing

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses or ½ cup fresh pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed or coarsely ground
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)

Just before serving, place all the dressing ingredients in a blender and pulse to combine, or shake in a jar until combined. Use immediately.

Pears Poached In Pomegranate Red Wine Syrup

Two fall fruits combine into a colorful and unforgettable dessert, suitable for grand occasions. This recipe serves 4, but there will be enough syrup to poach as many as 8 pears.

1 cup red wine
1/2 cup white sugar
½ cup pomegranate molasses OR 1 cup pomegranate juice
4 large, firm large pears
To serve: Ice cream, whipped cream or sorbet

Choose a deep, narrow saucepan just large enough to hold the four pears standing on end, with a little space around each. Combine the red wine and sugar and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pomegranate syrup or juice, and set aside.

Carefully peel the pears from stem to base, leaving the stem on. Use a small melon baller or the handle of a spoon to scoop out the blossom end, and some of the seeds. (Be careful not to scoop out too large a cavity, or the pear will collapse when cooked.) Cut a small slice off the bottom so the pear stands upright.

Set the pears into the saucepan with the syrup. Add water, if necessary, to just cover the pears. Set over moderate heat and cook very gently until the pears are barely tender when poked with a sharp knife, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid to a plate to cool, and reduce the cooking syrup until it just coats a spoon. The syrup should be light; don’t over-thicken it.

The pears can be served warm or cold with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, and the reduced syrup spooned over the pear. It would be fun to serve the pears, warm from the poaching syrup, paired with a scoop of Pomegranate Sorbet.

Pomegranate Iced Tea

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole star anise
Peel of one lemon, yellow part only, preferably in one or two long pieces
3 cups pomegranate juice, fresh or bottled
Thin lemon slices and mint springs for garnish (optional)

Boil the water, sugar, cloves, star anise and lemon peel for 10 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved. Strain and chill. Add the pomegranate juice, adjusting to taste; the mixture should be very strong.
To serve, pour over ice cubes or blend in a blender to make a ‘slushie.’ Garnish with lemon slices and mint sprigs.

Pomegranate Sorbet

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 egg white

Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat, and let cool. Add the pomegranate juice and chill thoroughly. Beat the egg white to soft peaks and fold into the chilled juice. Freeze immediately in an ice cream maker or machine, according to manufacturers directions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the base can be frozen in a shallow pan or dish.


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