Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pomegranate Preference

One Saturday I heard a story on The Splendid Table (an American Public Media program about food and cooking aired on National Public Radio) about POM354, a program headed by James Brett that seeks to replace opium poppy farms in Afghanistan with pomegranate orchards. As stated on the POM354 web site, “POM354's primary aim is to assist Afghan farmers in their move from poppy cultivation to a sustainable alternative livelihood. The objective is to alter circumstances in rural Afghanistan that will enable the (re)creation of a stable and fair market for pomegranate products.”

The POM354 site is loaded with information about the project, including how you can support the project and even adopt a pomegranate tree.

This story fascinated me, and made me even more interested in eating (and drinking) pomegranate products. (Why not increase the demand for the alternative while saying "no" to drugs?) While I’ve never actually bought a whole pomegranate, I do enjoy pomegranate juice and juice blends. They are perky and have an extra lip-smacking fruitiness that is hard for me to describe further. I particularly like a Cranberry-Pomegranate juice blend, which is delicious mixed with diet lemon-lime pop (soda for the rest of you) and sipped through a straw.

Pomegranate juice is also used in Middle Eastern cooking, and I especially enjoy it in its concentrated, syrupy form known as pomegranate molasses. I found my bottle at an upscale market but it is also available online at places like this one.

Pomegranate molasses has an unusual sweet-sour flavor that I find to be fantastic on fruit, especially when mixed with honey. For a super-easy fruit salad, just drizzle about equal parts honey and pomegranate molasses over a mixture of your favorite fruits cut into bite sized pieces. I really like this with oranges and pineapple. I bet grapes would be good, although I would cut them in half so the syrupy goodness can stick a little better and blend in with the juice on the cut side. I can hardly wait until late summer when I can get some perfect local melons to try this with, too.

Pomegranate molasses is great in savory applications as well. Its sourness makes it a perfect candidate for inclusion in a vinaigrette, and its exotic flavor makes anything taste special, even the lowly and perhaps overly-familiar carrot. Here is a simple shredded carrot salad that might just be the solution to the sorry salad greens blues that can hit us all in the winter, or, if you’re like me, right now when the first CSA box is just a few weeks away and you just can’t buy another head or bag of lettuce that comes with its own stamped passport. Of course, I’m also waiting impatiently for those unbelievably sweet local carrots, and the carrots I used to make my salad probably came from just as far away as any lettuce would have, but…well, it seemed like a good showcase for pomegranate molasses. What can I say?

I like to use the food processor to shred the carrots. I also cut the green onions into short ribbons that mimic the size and shape of the carrot pieces. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all, and I think cutting the green onions this way flatters the salad nicely. Orange or lime juice would probably also be good in place of the lemon juice.

Simple Shredded Carrot Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette
Don’t let the fact that you already ate a few carrots out of the bag stop you from making this. I actually made it with about ¾ pound, and thought the dressing would also stretch further.

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and shredded
3 green onions, roots trimmed; cut into strips lengthwise, about the same size as the carrot pieces

1. Combine the pomegranate molasses, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir well with a whisk. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until completely blended.

2. Add the carrots and green onions. Toss well to coat.

Makes about 4 servings.

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