Just looking at the inside of a pomegranate makes it easy to see why they have a sultry reputation throughout most of history. Some scholars believe it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that lured Adam in the Garden of Eden. And in one of my favorite Greek myths, Persephone is doomed to live in the underworld for as many months in the year as the number of pomegranate seeds she's eaten. They're mysterious and complicated, and a juicy, bright blood-red. Gem-like seeds are caught in a papery web, all wrapped in a thick vintage-looking skin and topped with what looks like the end of a cigar (our foolproof instructions for untangling the mess are below). People were supposedly cultivating pomegranates in Greece as early as 6000 BC...so they certainly predate the new Whole Foods gentrifying its next Brooklyn neighborhood right now. They've shown up from murals in Pompeii to ancient Chinese wedding traditions, from Islamic art and architecture to the paintings of modern Post-Impressionists. (It seriously sounds like I'm making this stuff up). Throughout all these eras and cultures, they've symbolized fertility, sexuality, motherhood, good fortune, paradise, and the underworld.
What all the art and myths and blessings were probably picking up on are the fact that this fruit is definitely good for you. As you can glean from their deeply bright color, those seeds (called arils) are bursting with nutrients and antioxidants. And, like citrus, they're one of the few decadent pieces of produce that you can look forward to in the colder months, when the bounty of summer abandons us. We're actually coming towards the end of the pomegranate season now...they're typically available from about October-February...so grab one while you can, and hope that the more favorable mythologies about it are the truer ones.
If you're not as nerdy as I am about digging the ancient history of your produce, you need only to know that pomegranates are super yummy. They're half-tart, half-sweet, and lend a snappy, bright burst of juice to each bite. You can toss them by the handful into any salad, rice or couscous, soup, or yogurt, without any recipe necessary. But here are a few links to recipes I'd love to try:
- Mango-Pomegranate Guacamole (from Cup of Jo)
- Pomegranate-Braised Short Ribs (from Martha Stewart)
- Roast Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate, Cucumber and Mint Salsa (from Epicurious)
- and this Quinoa, Fennel and Pomegranate Salad (from Bon Appetit) is one I've made and loved before
(all photos, jamie grill photography)