Each season has its pleasures. I keep telling myself this as I defrost the dog after his romps outside in the snow. The idiot is in heaven.
My snow-season pleasure is pomegranates, which are in abundant supply this month in supermarket produce sections. Prices have dropped as low as two for $1 in some stores, so I intend to eat my fill between now the end of the season, which runs for another three to six weeks.
When did we suddenly become crazy for all things pomegranate, from shampoo and salad dressing to the fruit itself? I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but it stems from the fruit’s coronation as a “superfruit” sometime in the last decade. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and an excellent source of fiber and Vitamins C and K. I’ve been on a pomegranate kick for about two years, since they became widely available and relatively affordable in stores. This is my second full-on pomegranate season. From November through January or February, whenever the season ends, I will not be without one or two in my refrigerator.
We have California farmers to thank. Although pomegranates have been grown commercially in California for decades, production exploded in the last few years as word of the fruit’s health properties spread. By 2011, more than 30,000 acres were planted in pomegranates in California, up from about 15,000 acres in 2009 and just 2,500 in 1976, according to various industry sources. The 2012 fall crop is expected to be 4 million boxes this year, according to The Packer, a produce trade newspaper. A box equals 28 pounds.
Now there’s even a California Pomegranate Council to promote the fruit (www.pomegranates.org), and websites with health info, recipes and craft projects. On the growers’ site I learned how to juice a pomegranate: Place the whole fruit in a plastic bag and roll and press on a counter with your palm to break all the seeds without cracking the rind. When the crackling sound stops, pierce the rind and squeeze out the juice. Or just place all the arils in a blender and pulverize them. Both methods sound messy (pomegranate juice stains, remember). I think I’ll just buy the juice in a bottle.
In the early days of my affair with pomegranates, when I mostly consumed the arils in glasses of champagne, I told folks to squish the little ruby sacs with the tongue to release the juice, and spit out the seeds. Now I know better. The entire aril is eaten, tiny seed and all.
Last year I moved beyond eating the arils plain, branching out to sprinkle them on salads. This year it occurred to me that since most of the world has been eating pomegranates for centuries (it is one of the oldest cultivated fruits), someone has probably developed a few recipes for them. I went looking, which is when I found the Pomegranate Council and its recipe for Persian Chicken in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce. This is my new favorite way to ward off the winter blues. Although my dog would disagree, it sure beats rolling in the snow.
PERSIAN CHICKEN IN WALNUT-POMEGRANATE SAUCE
- 1 pomegranate
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 1/3 cups chicken broth
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 tbsp. molasses
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- Salt, pepper
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups half-slices red onion
- Hot cooked couscous
Score fresh pomegranate and place in a bowl of cool water. Break open the pomegranate under water to free the arils (seed sacs). The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the top. Sieve and put the arils in a separate bowl. Measure out 1//4 cup and tie in cheesecloth with kitchen string. Reserve 1⁄4 cup more for garnish. Refrigerate or freeze remaining arils for another use.
In a food processor or blender combine the juice, walnuts, 1⁄3 cup of the broth, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cover and process for 10 seconds. Stir remaining broth and molasses into mixture; set aside. Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Roll in flour to coat. Heat olive oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet or Dutch oven. Brown the chicken pieces in batches on all sides, adding more oil if needed; drain. Add chicken pieces back to pan.
Pour walnut sauce over chicken. Immerse cheesecloth bag of arils in liquid; add onion and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink and sauce is desired consistency, stirring occasionally. Remove cheesecloth bag and discard. Serve chicken and sauce over couscous, garnished with remaining pomegranate arils. Makes 6 servings.
HELP U COOK
This is a good time of year to curl up with an old movie and a bowl of popcorn. If you haven’t done so in awhile, your popcorn may be too old to pop. As the kernels age, they dry out. Moisture inside the kernel is what makes the seed explode. If your popcorn is the microwave kind, sealed in a bag, there’s nothing you can do. But if you pop the old-fashioned way, you can restore the kernels by soaking them in cold water overnight. Drain and allow to dry completely before popping.
How interesting that you should have the item on “pot pie” in your newsletter. I am from Pennsylvania (near Altoona) and my Mom made this. I had just been planning to make it this week! Last night I made up the ham broth from the bone, and will finish the dish today.
Dear Ron: I’m glad we keep these old-fashioned recipes alive, and discussing them in forums such this helps, don’t you think? Although we may not want to return to a steady diet of such fare, heritage recipes help preserve the histories of our families.
From Marcia Adair:
Here’s a dilemma I’ve never before encountered until I tried a new recipe for short ribs. Because there are only two of us, I bought just a pound of meat, while the recipe called for 3 pounds. No problem — as I’ve done many times, I simply cut the ingredient quantities in half.
Wrong this time. By the time the onions, garlic, peppers and spices were cooked, the recipe called for a cup of black coffee and a cup of red wine. The cooking time was then 21/2 hours in a 325-degree oven, covered. When I took the pan out of the oven, the onion pieces were burned, the liquid had all evaporated, and the meat was tough.
Are there good rules of thumb on when and when not to cut back on cooking liquids that I’ve never read before? Looking forward to your advice.
Dear Marcia: This is a tough question. You have to consider the purpose of the liquid in the recipe, decide whether the cooking method will cause any of the liquid to evaporate, and gauge how fast the liquid will evaporate. In the case of your recipe, the purpose of the liquid is to braise the meat. So right away, you know you’ll need enough liquid to come a little more than halfway up the sides of the pile of short ribs.
Even so, the long cooking time (despite the lid, which keeps in moisture) will cause some of the liquid to evaporate. The evaporation time will depend not only on the temperature (moderate in this case) and cooking time (long), but also the size of the pan. The liquid will evaporate much more quickly in a wide, shallow pan than a small, deep pan, for example.
I guess the rule we’re looking at here is that when the cooking time is long or the heat is high, be generous with the liquid when cutting a recipe in half. Also, monitor the dish while it’s cooking, and add more liquid if necessary.
Please share your best recipe for sauerkraut balls.
Dear Barbara: Gladly. The following recipe is from the old Bavarian Haus restaurant in Akron. The chef gave me the recipe in 1995 and I shared it in my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.”
- 1 1/4 lbs. ground ham
- 6 eggs
- 2 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic or 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 medium onion, minced fine
- 5 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and chopped
- 4 to 6 cups flour
- 1 egg beaten with 1 cup milk
- Flour for coating
- Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
- Oil for deep-frying
In a very large bowl, combine ham, eggs, garlic, peppers and onion. Add sauerkraut and mix well with your hands. Add flour a little at a time, kneading until the mixture is smooth and can be shaped into soft balls. Use only enough flour to achieve the proper consistency. The mixture will be sticky.
Pull off chunks of the mixture and roll between your palms to make balls the size of a golf ball. Place on cookie sheets and freeze until firm, about two hours. While frozen, roll in the flour, then in the egg-milk mixture, then in the bread crumbs. Freeze again and transfer to plastic freezer bags until ready for use, or fry immediately.
To fry, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry a few at a time (straight from freezer) until the coating is golden brown and a fork easily pierces to the center. If the oil is too hot, the outsides will burn before the insides thaw and cook.
Makes about 96.