The pomegranate has been revered for centuries as a religious symbol of resurrection and new life. And with more than 600 seeds packed within its crimson walls, the pomegranate has been an artistic symbol of fertility and abundance. But it’s the juice of this fruit, with its sweet-sour qualities and nutritional benefits, that is capturing the imagination of cooks and researchers alike.

Because the pomegranate is native to the Middle East, the intense jolt of flavor from its juice is to Middle Eastern cooking what lemon juice is to American cooking. And pomegranate molasses, which is simply a concentration of the juice, is used extensively throughout the region.

Pomegranates, now at peak season, are ready to eat and also make for wonderful centerpieces on your dining table. But as the star fruit of this season, you should try incorporating pomegranate seeds, juice or concentrate in your trusted recipes for added flavor and festivity.

Here are a few ideas.

Choose pomegranates that are about the size of a small grapefruit, with richly colored rind that runs from deep red to purplish.

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CHICKEN MARINATED IN POMEGRANATE
Makes 4 servings

Chicken:
✔ 3 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
✔ 1 Tbsp. olive oil
✔ Grated zest of 1 lemon
✔ 1⁄8 tsp. salt
✔ 1⁄8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
✔ 4 chicken breast halves on the bone, skin removed

Pomegranate dressing:
✔ 1 medium clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
✔ 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
✔ 1 Tbsp. honey
✔ 4 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
✔ 1⁄3 cup olive oil
✔ 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped mint

To marinate chicken: Stir together pomegranate molasses, olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Remove skin and trim bones from the side of each breast.

Place chicken in a glass baking dish. Pour marinade over chicken, cover and refrigerate overnight, turning once.

To prepare pomegranate dressing: Combine garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, honey and pomegranate molasses in a bowl, whisking well.

Whisk in olive oil slowly, blending well. Stir in mint. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 180º. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Remove the chicken from the marinade.

When skillet is hot, place the chicken skin-side down and brown well. Transfer to a rack set in a roasting pan. Spoon a little marinade over the top and roast about 35 to 40 minutes or until chicken tests done in the thickest part. (Discard unused marinade.)

Transfer chicken to plates. Drizzle with pomegranate dressing and serve with rice or bulgur.

GEORGIAN BEAN SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE
Makes 6 to 8 servings

✔ 1 cup small dried kidney beans (or canned or frozen)
✔ 1⁄3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
✔ 3⁄4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
✔ 1⁄2 cup walnuts
✔ 2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
✔ 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
✔ 1 medium clove garlic, peeled and minced
✔ 1 small red or green chili, seeded and minced
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
✔ 1⁄8 tsp. ground cloves
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper
✔ 1⁄2 cup pomegranate juice
✔ 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
✔ 1⁄4 cup pomegranate seeds

Soak beans in cold water overnight. The next day, drain and rinse beans. Place in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook at a high simmer until the beans are tender.

Check after 30 minutes and continue cooking as necessary. Drain well and transfer to a bowl. While the beans are still warm, stir in onion and 1⁄2 tsp. salt.

You may use frozen cooked beans or canned beans. In both cases, no soaking is necessary. But the canned beans need a good rinse, and you should cook the frozen beans until hot through and tender.

In a food processor, finely chop together walnuts, cilantro, parsley, garlic, chili and remaining 1⁄4 tsp. salt. Fold into the beans.

Stir in cinnamon, cloves, pepper and pomegranate juice. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

One hour before serving, remove salad from refrigerator and stir in pomegranate molasses and seeds. Serve at room temperature.

POMEGRANATE-GLAZED SALMON WITH MEJADRA
Serves 4 as a main course

Mejadra is a rice dish made with lentils and spices.

✔ 1⁄2 cup dried lentils
✔ 1⁄2 cup long-grain rice
✔ Small pinch saffron threads (or a pinch of turmeric)
✔ Sea salt, fresh black pepper
✔ 6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
✔ 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
✔ 2 Tbsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
✔ 4 170-gr. skinless salmon fillets
✔ 1⁄4 cup pomegranate molasses

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the lentils and just enough water to cover by an inch to a boil. Cook until just tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In another saucepan, bring the rice, saffron, 1 cup water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the rice is tender and nearly all the liquid has been absorbed, 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Heat 3 Tbsp. of oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the lentils and rice to the pan, tossing to mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 200º. Heat the remaining 3 Tbsp. of oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan, preferably nonstick, over high heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides and, when the oil is hot, add it to the pan.

Cook until the bottom has a toasted brown crust, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and brush the fillets with a generous amount of molasses.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the fish is opaque throughout when prodded with the tip of a knife, about 4 minutes.

Divide the lentils and rice among four warm plates, top with a salmon fillet, and serve immediately.

GREEN SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE AND PEANUTS
Makes 8 to 10 servings

✔ 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
✔ 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
✔ 1 Tbsp. honey
✔ Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
✔ 1 bag baby mixed greens
✔ 1 carrot, grated
✔ 1⁄3 cup roasted peanuts
✔ 1⁄3 cup pomegranate seeds

Shake together in a jar: vinegar, oil, honey, salt and pepper.

Place greens and carrots in a bowl.

Add dressing and toss to coat. Garnish with peanuts and pomegranate seeds.

Serve immediately.

POMEGRANATE RICE
Serves 6

✔ 2 Tbsp. margarine
✔ 2 cups jasmine rice or long-grain white rice
✔ 1⁄2 cup olive oil
✔ 2 shallots, chopped
✔ 1 2- to 21⁄2 cm. piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
✔ 1 cinnamon stick
✔ 3 cups chicken stock
✔ 1 bay leaf
✔ 1⁄2 cup pistachios
✔ Seeds from 2 pomegranates

Melt margarine in a medium pan over very low heat. Add 1⁄2 cup rice, stirring to coat. Cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice is a nut-brown color. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, ginger, cinnamon and remaining 11⁄2 cups rice and saute, stirring frequently, until rice is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 14 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Mix together the rices in a bowl and fold in pistachios and pomegranate seeds.

Remove bay leaf. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

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