I've never been known as an early riser, but these days the mercury in the Los Angeles area hits 100 degrees before noon. So I took an unprecedented 6:13 a.m. (precisely) walk this morning, just to be sure my legs still work. September in East Central Pasadena means staying indoors with the drapes drawn and the AC blasting for weeks on end, and the lack of sunlight hitting my pineal gland seriously makes me a little crazy.
Every other yard in my neighborhood seems to have a pomegranate tree, and this morning's walk made my mouth water.Getting at the arils (seeds) is always a sticky, messy, dangerous affair which spatters and stains everything in my kitchen the deep red of a priceless Persian rug. Spinning and turning a slippery, waxy, heavy pomegranate (heavy is good, means it's ripe) with tacky fingers and a couple of super-sharp knives also adds to the drama-- the scene could instantly turn "Dexter."
I've tried the water-peeling technique, by the way. But lately I've just gone back to scoring the thick skin into sections, peeling the skin away, then breaking the garnet-jeweled sections open with my thumbs. It takes a lot of practice to get the arils out of the bitter white membrane without bursting them, but they add a regal, tart gleam to sauce for chicken, rice and almonds, or pink-frosted cupcakes.
Pomegranates have been getting a lot of attention lately as a beauty product and a health product. I'm skeptical.
But Rosh Hashanah's this week, giving the eating of pomegranates a decidedly more Talmudic quality. As I walked past all of the trees, heavy with their blushed ripe fruit, all I could think of was 613. This is the number which some Jewish scholars assign to the number of seeds contained in a pomegranate, or Rimon, a symbol of the New Year.
This is also the number of Mitzvot-- Commandments--to be observed throughout the year. Maybe you're familiar with the Big Ten (think Charlton Heston), but there are actually 613. Those who love numbers will note that the three digits add up to One, the Eternal One.
OK, 613? Oy gevalt, man. I checked Maimonides' list when I got home. Some of it's kinda, well, not applicable to me. Involving vineyards, multiple wives, burnt offerings and dunking in the Mikvah (nothing like the dunk-tank at the LA County Fair, sorry).
I realize you can easily take this kind of moralizing too far. It was the Jerry Seinfeld who reminded us to "Look to the cookie"-- the classic black and white bakery cookie--as an edible meditation of race relations.
So I'll stop here with the philosophy. I can't help but feel, though, that each perfect pomegranate aril represents an opportunity to discover a jewel within ourselves, our thinking, action and being, and offer it in every moment. A noble New Year agenda if there ever was one.
Here's my recipe for my original salad which I call the Waldorf Upgrade, which departs from the sliced apple, mayonnaise and walnut version I grew up with. Good for Rosh, good for Thanksgiving, good for Christmas-- whenever you can get your hands on fresh Pomegranate arils.
Ripe Anjou and Bartlett pears (one pear per person), cubed
Dried apricots (about one tsp per person), diced
Dried cranberries (about one tsp per person)
Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese to taste
Chopped Mint to taste
A dusting of Cinnamon, a grind of Nutmeg
Pomegranate Arils -- the more the better
Endive leaves -- Set aside for serving
Lemons or Limes -- Set aside for serving
MIX WELL. Turn all ingredients except Endive leaves, Lemons and Limes lightly in a glass bowl, chill for a few hours.
TO SERVE, arrange Endive leaves into a "star" shape on chilled salad plate, with points facing out. Use an ice-cream scoop to make a neat ball of the salad mixture in the center of each star. Squeeze the Lemon and Lime over the scoop for acidity -- this also makes the Gorgonzola into an instant salad dressing. Garnish with Mint leaves and a few more Pomegranate Arils.