I can’t remember the first time I had a pomegranate, but it was a long time ago – much before they became the go-to healthy fruit and juice. I love the messiness of them. I’ve heard of all manner of ways to extract the seeds that will keep you nice and tidy, but, to me, part of the thrill is the squirting juice, stained hands, and general mayhem that occurs as you try to pull the fruit apart and pick away at the juicy seeds. If unlike me you prefer to keep your consumption on the tidy side, you can fill the kitchen sink with cold water, score the skin and then twist the fruit apart under water. The seeds will fall down and the detritus will rise to the top or you can freeze the whole fruit for a bit – not completely solid – and then twist apart. The seeds should tumble out.
If you haven’t used pomegranate molasses I urge you to add it to your pantry. I first discovered it many years ago at Sahadi’s, a wonderful Middle Eastern store in Brooklyn. Now, I think you can buy it at many supermarkets. It is an important ingredient in Lebanese cooking and can be used to make drinks as well as to give a lemony-astringent flavor to sauces, marinades, pilafs, glazes, and whatever you think could use a jolt of sweet-sour flavor.
When I did a lot of catering one of my favorite side dishes with pheasant or duck or even chicken was a pomegranate pilaf. It is very easy to make nowadays as I have seen fresh seeds in the refrigerated produce section of many specialty food and produce stores and even some supermarkets. The dish is pretty, tasty, and easy to make and will add some zip to a simple dinner of grilled chicken, fish, lamb, or pork.
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced celery, optional
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup basmati rice
½ cup quinoa, well-rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium, nonfat chicken broth
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ cups fresh pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Place the mushrooms in a small heatproof container with boiling water to cover by about an inch. Set aside to soak for 45 minutes.
Drain well. (If you want to use the soaking liquid as part of the cooking liquid for the rice, by all means do so. In this case, using a slotted spoon, lift the mushrooms from the soaking liquid and then carefully strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a coffee filter to catch any grit and debris. Measure and decrease the chicken stock by that amount). Chop the mushrooms and set them aside.
Combine 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with the butter in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and when hot, stir in the shallots and, if using, the celery. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes or until the shallots are softening. Stir in the cumin and cardamom along with the reserved chopped mushrooms. Add the rice and quinoa and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the stock, molasses, and cinnamon stick, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and immediately lower the heat, cover, and cook at a very low simmer for about 20 minutes or until the rice and quinoa are tender.
Remove from the heat and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
Uncover, remove and discard the cinnamon stick, and fluff in the pomegranate seeds and mint. Serve hot or at room temperature.