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It is the most carnal of fruits. First there is the hard, leathery skin, then the waxy intensely bitter interior; and finally, the bright-red juice spurting from sweet plump seeds. A clean fine slice reveals, what the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning called “a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.”

Known also as a Chinese apple or Granada, the pomegranate is an unusual six sided fruit that grows as a bush or small tree. It was first cultivated thousands of years ago around the Mediterranean but is now grown in Europe, Asia, and the Americas—wherever there is rich soil, hot weather and a dry climate. King Solomon had pomegranate orchards. The prophet Mohammed recommended the fruit “to purge the system of greed and hatred.” In Punjab it is called Anar and is used as fresh fruit or a powder in many vegetable and legume dishes. In Iranian cooking, fresh pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over rice or added to stews. Scattered like rubies, they make the simplest dishes festive.

When shopping for fresh fruit, look for ones that are heavy with a bright colour and a skin without blemishes. Pomegranate juice or syrup is high in vitamin C. It is an excellent meat tenderizer and adds a sharp-sweet taste to salad dressings. It tastes great over vanilla ice cream and makes fantastic sorbets. The syrup works well with club soda or dashed over fresh grapefruit or mixed into various citrus and vodka “sun risers” to lend a blushing brilliance to the drink.

As a syrup, pomegranate juice is often sold as grenadine. Stores which specialize in European food products tend to carry well known brands such as Teissiere. These are tasty but rarely have pomegranate juice in them. Instead, they rely on a mix of several red berry fruits, particularly raspberry which comes closest in flavour but isn’t at all the real thing. Real pomegranate juice (usually sold mixed with sugar and sometimes called pomegranate molasses) has a lovely bittersweet tang.Look for it in Middle Eastern stores. Akhavan, an excellent small Iranian supermarket at 5768 Sherbrooke West (514-485-4887), has several brands.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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