Green eats: Pomegranate à la king

The fruit, which ripens in time for Rosh Hashana, was destined for grandeur – a symbol of beauty and plenty.

meat 311 (photo credit: MCT)
meat 311
(photo credit: MCT)
I’ve had a special affection for pomegranates since I was a little girl sitting on the stoop of my parents’ house in Belle Harbor, New York. It was late summer, and a friend and I were sticking our little fingers into what we called a Chinese apple, to forage for its luscious juicy seeds. We loved their ruby color. And they tasted good, too. We got our blouses dirty and our mouths all red. That was fun.
Today we can find pomegranates practically year round (from storage), but for our ancestors its ripening in these very days was a sign of the change of seasons and the approach of the Days of Awe.
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But unlike the olive, grape and fig, which were basic essentials in our ancestors’ diet, the pomegranate was destined for grandeur. Embroidered bell shaped blossoms and fruit hemmed the priestly vestments, and King Solomon, to whom they were a metaphor for beauty, ordered them carved on the Temple pillars.
Many scholars believe that the pomegranate’s tufted crown was the original inspiration for the kingly headdress still in use today.

To me, that’s enough inspiration to include pomegranates on our Rosh Hashana table, and not only in the Blessings ceremony that kicks off the New Year (in Sephardi and an increasing number of Ashkenazi homes). After we pray that our good deeds will be as numerous of the seeds of the pomegranate, we’ll be dipping into my favorite roasted eggplant salad in the world (recipe follows).

Roasted eggplant and pomegranate salad
6 servings
If your stove top is electric, broil the eggplant on the oven rack with a parchment paper-lined pan underneath to catch the drippings. Set close to the broiler element till blackened and turn occasionally.
Don’t be tempted to use a blender or food processor for this recipe – it destroys the texture.
✔ 3 large eggplants
✔ Seeds of 1 pomegranate
✔ 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
✔ 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
✔ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To garnish:
✔ 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)
✔ 3 Tbsp. chopped scallions and/or sliced radishes
Wash and dry eggplants.
Cut three large squares of aluminum foil and a hole in the middle of each to form “collars” for 3 stove top gas burners. (This will help facilitate clean-up).
If you have them, place a rack over each burner to hold the eggplant (cooling racks may also be used).
Put an eggplant on each one of the burners and roast over medium heat, turning occasionally, till blackened on all sides. Use two large kitchen spoons to transfer one eggplant at a time to a cutting board. Let cool until easy to handle.
Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and use a smaller spoon to scrape out the insides. Discard the skin and brown spots in the insides. Hand-chop the eggplant flesh with a chopping knife till there are no coarse lumps or strips and transfer to a bowl. Using a fork, mix in the lemon juice and pomegranate seeds, then gently whisk in the olive oil.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour onto a large plate and garnish with chopped mint in the middle and chopped scallions over the rest.
Georgian chicken in pomegranate and tamarind sauce
Serves 5-6 (or more if using a combination of chicken parts)
Although it cooks up very dark, this richly flavored fragrant chicken dish is traditional for Rosh Hashana and the festival season in Georgia on the Black Sea.
This version is from Nanuchka, a popular Georgian restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Traditionally made with chicken thighs, it can also be made with a combination of thighs, legs and breasts. Serve with plain rice or mashed potatoes.
Note: Pomegranate concentrate and tamarind are available in health food stores and Asian markets.
✔ 10 chicken thighs
✔ 4 medium onions, peeled and diced
✔ 4 medium red onions, peeled and diced
✔ 2 cups chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
✔ 10 garlic cloves, sliced or pressed
✔ 1 tsp. sweet paprika
✔ 1 tsp. hot paprika or cayenne pepper
✔ 1 tsp. black pepper
✔ 3 Tbsp. tamarind paste
✔ 1⁄2 half cup pomegranate concentrate, no sugar added, diluted in half cup water
✔ 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
✔ 11⁄2 tsp. salt, or more to taste
✔ Seeds of half pomegranate, and remaining fresh coriander to garnish Remove the skin from the chicken thighs, rinse and pat dry. Set aside.
In a large Dutch oven or pot with a cover, mix the diced onions, 11⁄2 cups coriander, sliced garlic and spices. Blend in the tamarind paste, diluted pomegranate sauce, tomato paste and salt.
Add the chicken thighs and ladle the sauce on top. Cover and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, then lower heat and cook for a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Transfer the chicken and sauce to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining 1⁄2 cup chopped coriander. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top.
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