While most Jews associate apples and bread dipped in honey with the New Year, pomegranates are considered one of the most spiritual fruits of the holiday. In addition to its many culinary delights, the pomegranate is reported to have many health benefits. Called pomum granatum by the Romans, or seeded apple, the pomegranate is one of the oldest and most beloved fruits, and some believe it was the “apple” in the Garden of Eden. Many considered it a symbol of fertility, but during Rosh Hashanah we eat pomegranates as a reminder to perform acts of good deeds. Jewish tradition says that it contains 613 seeds, the same number of laws that Jews are commanded to obey.
In Muslim tradition, Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”
The pomegranate has always decorated our holiday table, and last year I made a centerpiece using this colorful, regal fruit. But this year it will become part of our Rosh Hashanah dinner and to that end, I’ve created several new recipes using the seeds and juice to serve during the Jewish New Year celebration.
Pomegranates originated in Persia and in the Himalayas in northern India and were cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region as well as in China. The first pomegranate trees in California were planted by the Spanish in 1769, and the Southland’s cool winters and hot summers are the perfect conditions for the fleshy red fruit. Your neighbors might even have a tree in their backyard.
When I see pyramids of pomegranates displayed in a market it’s difficult to deny them space in my shopping cart. Buy them at your local farmers market when they are in season since they keep for several weeks in a refrigerator.
In my home it’s customary to save several pomegranates for our grandchildren to help prepare when they arrive for dinner. Their task is to peel away the outer skin, find the seeds and count them before they are served with the meal.
To peel the pomegranate, gently score the leather-like skin into quarters, and then place the entire pomegranate in a large bowl filled with water. Keeping your hands under the water, gently pull off the skin and remove the seeds, which will fall to the bottom. Carefully drain the water, discard the outer skin and fibers, and dry the seeds.
We begin our Rosh Hashanah dinner with an antipasti of salads. Start with Hummus With Pomegranate Seeds, a delicious, creamy mixture of pureed chickpeas and sesame seed paste flavored with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, served with challah, pita bread, fresh vegetables or sliced jicama. Include a Cabbage-Carrot Slaw With Pomegranate Seeds served on a bed of thinly sliced romaine lettuce and topped with a generous amount of pomegranate seeds. Both salads are tasty and colorful and take minutes to prepare with the help of a food processor.
The main course is Roasted Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Sauce, which tastes even better the next day and can be prepared in advance. Simply reheat and serve with noodles and your favorite vegetables.
For a refreshing dessert, prepare homemade non-dairy Pomegranate and Lime Sorbet and serve it with Pomegranate Jelly-Filled Cookies that are rolled in nuts, baked and filled with a dollop of pomegranate jelly.
Hummus With Pomegranate Seeds
l can (15 ounce) garbanzo beans, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Pomegranate seeds for garnish
Place the garbanzo beans in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed.
Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin; process until smooth. Continue processing, adding olive oil in a steady stream until well blended. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Makes about 3 cups.
Roasted Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Sauce
8 lamb shanks, cut in half crosswise
1/2 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 (16-ounce) can whole or chopped tomatoes
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 1/2 to 3 cups pomegranate juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup minced parsley
6 sprigs of fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried
In a large roaster, heat the oil and sauté garlic and onions until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, tomatoes, tomato sauce and pomegranate juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
Place the lamb over the vegetables; sprinkle with parsley and rosemary and baste lamb. Bring to a boil and bake at 375 F for two and a half to three hours, or until tender. Remove fat that forms on top and discard. Transfer sauce to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer until sauce is thick.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Pomegranate and Lime Sorbet
1 cup sugar
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
In a small saucepan combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and simmer the syrup for five minutes. Transfer to a large glass measuring cup, cool and chill, covered for two hours.
Remove the syrup from refrigerator and stir in the pomegranate and lime juice.
Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions until it is almost frozen. Transfer to ice cream containers and freeze until ready to serve. Serve sorbet in scoops, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
Makes about 1 quart.