Although they are among the oldest cultivated fruits, pomegranates still seem exotic: reddish orbs shaped like holiday ornaments that open to reveal jewel-like seeds. Long believed to have healing powers, the fruit turns out to deserve its healthy reputation.
Studies have found that pomegranates are richer in antioxidants than red wine, green tea, and most other fruits. They also contain substances that quell inflammation. Both properties are important, as they're believed to play roles in heading off heart disease.
Pomegranates may lower cancer risk as well. A 2006 study at the University of California-Los Angeles, which followed 50 men with prostate cancer for up to four years, found that a daily eight-ounce glass of pomegranate juice slowed the progression of the cancer. The juice appeared to suppress cancer cell growth and cause potentially malignant cells to self-destruct. Experts say the same benefits might extend to breast and colon cancers.
Pomegranates are in markets from September to January. Cooks who treasure the fruits' tangy flavor and brilliant color can incorporate seeds or juice (fresh or bottled) into dishes. Good health, after all, is just one good reason to get to know this fruit.
Zucchini, Avocado, and Pomegranate Salsa
Serves six; makes about 2 cups
2 zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 whole-wheat pitas (6 inches each)
Olive-oil cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss zucchini with oil, oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Spread zucchini in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, tossing once, until tender and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack; let zucchini cool completely. (Leave oven on.)
2. Transfer zucchini to a medium bowl. Add onion, avocado, pomegranate seeds, feta, lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper; gently stir to combine. Refrigerate 30 minutes (up to 2 hours).
3. Cut pitas in half; split each half into two half-moons, and cut each half-moon into three triangles. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly coat both sides with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bake, flipping once, until pale golden brown, about 5 minutes. Serve with salsa. Pitas can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.
Per serving (1/3 cup salsa, 6 chips): 162 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 6 g unsaturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrate, 287 mg sodium, 4 g protein, 5 g fiber
Spiced Pomegranate Punch
Serves six; makes about 4 cups
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh ginger
1/4 cup fresh orange juice, plus strips of orange zest for garnish
1. Cut pomegranates in half. Extract juice from seeds with a citrus juicer or reamer. Strain into a medium saucepan. (You should have about 2 1/2 cups juice.)
2. Add cider, 2 cups water, cinnamon stick, and ginger. Cook over high heat until simmering, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat; gently simmer 15 minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface.
3. Remove from heat. Discard cinnamon and ginger. Stir in orange juice. Serve warm, garnished with orange zest.
Per serving: 113 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g unsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrate, 8 mg sodium, 1 g protein, 1 g fiber
Poached Pears with Vanilla-Pomegranate Syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped to loosen
4 firm, ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cut lengthwise into eighths, and cored
1. Cut pomegranates in half. Remove seeds from one half; reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup seeds). Extract juice from remaining halves with a citrus juicer. Strain into a medium saucepan. (You should have about 3/4 cup juice.)
2. Add honey, vanilla bean and seeds, and 4 cups water to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Carefully add pears. Cover, and cook until pears are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a plate; let cool slightly. Remove vanilla bean halves from poaching liquid; halve again lengthwise, reserving for garnish. Reserve 6 tablespoons poaching liquid.
4. To serve, divide pears among four bowls; sprinkle with reserved pomegranate seeds, dividing evenly. Drizzle each bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons poaching liquid, and garnish with a vanilla bean quarter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 185 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g unsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 47 g carbohydrates, 2 mg sodium, 2 g protein, 10 g fiber