Friday, June 17, 2011

Pomegranates in Winter

I simply can’t let this winter go by without featuring one of my favourite fruits in season this time of the year, the pomegranate. I first fell in love with the crisp flavour and beautiful colour of pomegranate seeds while travelling in India. Along the roadsides men would sell freshly squeezed fruit juice blended to order. Cut plastic bottles containing the fruit, lined the stalls and among them were always handfuls of pomegranate seeds, which was my obvious choice. The fruit was often liquidized with manual aluminum juicers, something we only find in antique shops, yet the whole livelihood of an extended family was reliant on this one juicer and a steady supply of fresh fruit. The juice was then strained through a sieve and served with a smile in a rinsed reused plastic cup, Indian-style.

Pomegranates are native to the Iranian Plateau and North Indian Himalayas but they are now cultivated in various parts of the world from the Mediterranean, to the East and even in South Africa. There are many varieties with different coloured arils (seed castings) ranging from deep red to a subtle light pink with flavours ranging from sweet to sour depending on the ripeness.

My other fond memory of ruby red pomegranates is from Neil Island, the so-called fruit basket of the Andaman Islands. With limited Hindi words, and lots of smiles we befriended a man selling fruit from a stall pulled behind his bicycle. Every day he would cycle to the town centre, a buzzing concrete slab of vendors, where he’d sit cross legged in his mobile stall selling locally grown star fruit, mango’s and pomegranates to the passing locals and tourists.

I like to use pomegranate pips more as a garnish and add them without hesitation to any dish I think needs a little crunch and freshness this time of year, which seems to be more often than not – be it winter salads, cheese platters or desserts.

Quinoa, Herb and Pomegranate Seed Salad
Serves 4

Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

300g quinoa
½ vegetable stock cube
75g pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
20g mint, chopped (a small handful)
20g coriander, chopped (a small handful)

Cook the quinoa by boiling three times the volume of water to quinoa, adding the ½ stock cube to the water. Once the water comes to the boil, place a lid on the pot and simmer on a low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until all the water has cooked away and the quinoa is light and fluffy.
Allow the quinoa to cool.
Meanwhile, make the dressing by adding all the ingredients into an empty glass jar and giving it a good shake. Once all the ingredients are combined pour this over the quinoa.
Toss the roasted pine nuts, the pomegranate seeds and the fresh herbs into the salad.
Season the salad with salt and pepper, to taste and serve as an accompaniment to lamb chops or a Middle Eastern-style dish.

Lemony Ricotta Cheese Cake with Pomegranate PipsServes 6

100g biscuits (Marie biscuits or Tennis biscuits)
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup cream
¾ cup castor sugar
2 tbsp corn flour
1 tbsp cake flour
3 extra large eggs
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
1 pomegranate, seeds/arils removed

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Blend the biscuits to fine crumbs in a food processor.
Mix the melted butter with the crumbs.
Press mixture into a greased 20cm spring form cake tin and refrigerate while you make the cheese cake filling.
Beat the ricotta cheese, the cream, castor sugar, flour, corn flour and eggs together until they are smooth.
Stir in the lemon juice and the zest.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for one hour. Increase the temperature to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 10 minutes until set and golden brown.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin, remove and refrigerate overnight.
Serve cold sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.
Optionally drizzle the cake with pomegranate syrup found in most delicatessens.

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