Autumn comes to Dubai and is not, as in England my country of birth, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, with blackberries and sloes weighing down the hedgerows, leaves turning golden and the scent of wood smoke in the air. Instead there is a slight lowering of the air conditioning, the realisation as you step outside that your sunglasses have not steamed up, deep red sunsets, a sense of promise for sitting outside long into the evening for many months to come and piles of pomegranates in the supermarkets.
Today I had the choice of fruit from four countries and due to curiosity and indecision, while ably advised by the assistant, I bought three different kinds. The ones from India were small and deep red, the Spanish ones paler and oddly described as seedless, Yemen yielded huge yellow globes which I would have avoided but the man said these were the sweetest. He also said that the Egyptian pomegranates were sour, so they stayed on the shelf. These might have been the variety that is used to make pomegranate molasses, a sweet and sour condiment used across the Middle East in cooking.
As a child, a pomegranate was the most unusual fruit I ever ate and seemed highly exotic. My mother bought them about once a year and, in retrospect, I have to wonder why. She wouldn’t have dreamed of buying a mango or a pineapple. They were cut in half and we were given a pin to eat them with – which seems both impractical and pretty dangerous with hindsight. However, no tongues were pierced but I think we got bored with eating them quite quickly using this laborious method.
Nigella Lawson advocates cutting a pomegranate in half and then whacking the shell with a wooden spoon so that the seeds rain down. While this does produce a few pretty promptly, it also sprays juice in all directions, damaging the juicy globules.
My preferred method is best done when you are not in a rush or have a few willing helpers. It doesn’t take that long but does require a gentle touch and a bit of patience. It’s quite therapeutic sitting in a quiet kitchen, Radio 4 in the background, easing the glittering bounty from its shell, pith and membrane.
How to remove seeds from a pomegranate
- First, cut a thin layer from the top and the bottom of the pomegranate to expose the seeds underneath (try not to cut into them if possible).
- With a sharp knife make eight equal cuts down the sides through the skin, following the line of the pith if you can (you can see that I didn’t always!) You will feel a soft resistance to the knife when you have cut all the way through the leather-like skin.
- Grasp both sides of the pomegranate and break in half gently. Separate the other wedges equally gently. Do this over a bowl or tabletop as the seeds will start to fall out.
- Carefully remove the pith, membrane and skin from each section letting the seeds collect into the bowl, teasing any stubborn ones out by bending the skin.
- Using this method will result in a heap of jewel-like pomegranate seeds completely free of pith, juice intact. By the way, the man was right – the pomegranates from Yemen were the sweetest.
Ten things to do with pomegranate seeds
- Scatter them over salads. They are especially good with bitter leaves.
- Stir them into a raita with yoghurt, salt and spring onions.
- Use them as a garnish for fish in a tahini sauce (or over hummous).
- Mix into cooked couscous or pearl barley with a handful of chopped mint, the juice of an orange, a little olive oil and white wine vinegar
- Sprinkle over the top of a trifle – this is great around the festive season.
- Cut deseeded cucumbers into small dice and mix with the seeds, sea salt and a squirt of lime juice.
- Bake some quinces (if you are lucky enough to find some), spoon on some clotted cream and strew with pomegranate seeds.
- Combine with dried apricots (soaked overnight in orange juice and simmered until tender), dates, segments of fresh orange and a little bit of orange flower water for a winter fruit salad.
- Serve a small bowlful with a cheese board (instead of the usual grapes).
- Make a pomegranate sauce. Put the seeds from 4 pomegranates into a blender for a few seconds then strain the liquid (about 300 ml) into a pan. Add the juice of 2 lemons, a tablespoon of sugar, 150ml of water, salt and pepper. You could add some browned joints of duck, sauted onions and some walnuts and simmer gently for at least 1 hour until very tender.
It was great fun taking these pictures of pomegranates and as the colours are so rich and sumptuous it might seem odd to take the black and white ones. However, the shapes are so sculptural though and in monochrome they are transformed into something other wordly – almost alien like!
I started with Keats so will end with Shakespeare:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark, that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear. Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree. Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5, Romeo and Juliet.