My dad was the grateful recipient of all manner of offerings in exchange for his services, because living in a small farming community, many folks had limited financial resources to pay for their medical care. And being the generous soul that he was, he was hard pressed to turn away a patient who couldn't afford an eye examination. Consequently, he often brought home bags full of the most delicious tamales, jams and fresh garden produce you can imagine. And in late summer, along with tomatoes and zucchini, some folks brought in pomegranates.
Many Biblical scholars believe that pomegranates were the forbidden fruit of Eden, and indeed, in our house, we were banished to the out-of-doors to eat them. Dressed in our father's old V-neck undershirts, my sister and I would sit on the front porch, greedily splattering ourselves with the blood-red juice as we plunged our fingers into the gem-like interior of the fruit. We just thought its sweet-tart juice was a tasty treat, but little did we know, pomegranates are not only delicious, but extremely healthful, as well.
Earlier in the week, Molly from Pom Wonderful, was kind enough to send me a box full of delicious pomegranate juice, along with an information packet. Pomegranate juice, it seems, has even more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or--gasp--red wine. It's also very good for the heart, and for certain male health issues. Visit their website for more information on its health benefits, recipes, and tips on how to use this truly amazing fruit.
Healthfulness aside, pomegranates are just plain tasty, and Middle Eastern cultures have been using it in their cooking for thousands of years. However, in the states, even in California which shares a climate with much of the Mediterranean, it remains an exotic ingredient, or gets set aside in a fruit basket as an autumnal decoration. But the seeds and juice are so flavorful, they deserve a second chance.
Luckily, places like Trader Joe's sell packets of seeds, freeing us from much of the messy work. Tossed on a salad or over rice pilaf, the ruby-red gems are not only full of flavor, but they are beautiful as well. And the juice is wonderful to drink (especially with a splash of vodka and club soda--does that detract from the health benefits?), but it also can be reduced into a rich, tangy sauce....which is exactly what I did tonight.
This dish, inspired by the flavors of Persia, was so addictive, we found ourselves mindlessly scooping more and more off the platter as we sat around the table. The chicken thighs, braised in a savory cinnamon-pomegranate sauce, were incredibly succulent, tender and very gently perfumed with spice. Topped with toasted walnuts, pomegranate seeds and slices of red onion, it was hot and cool, tender and crisp, sweet and spicy, all at once. Though the sauce usually includes ground walnuts, I chose to keep them whole, so they could be weeded out for those of us who might dislike them (or for those of us who might have an unfortunate sensitivity to them...sigh).
Persian Pomegranate Chicken Thighs
3 T canola oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1/4 C sliced shallot
1/2 t cinnamon
1 T molasses
1 C pomegranate juice
minced fresh parsley
1/4 C chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 C pomegranate seeds
2 thin slices of red onion
Heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Salt and pepper both sides of the thighs, then place in the oil and brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from heat and place on a platter. Reduce heat to low. Add shallots and cook for 5 minutes or until softened. Add molasses and pomegranate juice, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Add thighs back to the pan, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove thighs from pan and cover to keep warm. Raise heat to medium high and boil sauce to reduce by half (about 5-7 minutes). Pour over thighs. Top with parsley, walnuts, red onion and pomegranate seeds. Serve over hot basmati rice or couscous.