The pomegranate is an important food throughout the Middle East, where its fruity, sweet-sour juice is used in stews, sauces, marinades, glazes, salads and drinks. Pomegranate seeds add sparkle and crunch to salads and make a pretty garnish for soup. They are also delicious in tarts and fruit desserts. Pomegranate juice is used to flavor syrups and drinks and to make sorbet and ice cream.
Pomegranates arrive in the market in the fall and early winter. Look for deeply colored, large fruits, which will have a greater proportion of the clear red, juicy, crisp pulp. Heavy fruits promise more juice. The tough skin should be thin and nearly bursting with seeds. Press the fruits gently; if they release a powdery cloud, return them to the bin because the pulp is dry as dust.
Pomegranates have a much longer shelf life than most fresh fruits. They can be kept at room temperature for 3 to 5 days or refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 3 weeks. The seeds and the whole fruit can be frozen for about 3 months.
To seed a pomegranate, cut off the peel near the blossom end and remove it along with the bitter white pith. Lightly score the remaining peel into quarters from end to end. Working over a bowl, carefully break the fruit apart with your hands. Bend the peel inside out, and use your fingertips to lightly brush the seeds from the white membranes.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)