Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Granada—the Fruit—the City—the Song

 Its pomegranate, granada season, most apparent for mny of us with the offerings of chiles en nogada during this month when Mexicans are celebrating their independence on September 16. The jewel-like red seeds used for garnish of the dish gives it its festive sparkle and completes the red, green (cilantro or parsley) and white (walnut sauce) colors of the flag. 
The brilliantly red seeds are now also offered are at all the Mercados in town. Here they are filled into clear plastic beakers and placed next to the whole fruits, which is sometimes cut into 4 wedges, revealing it’s supposedly 365 or more jewel-like seedsAs patriotic as chile en nogada appear to be, the pomegranate came a long way from its country of origin, that is Persia, today’s Iran. It has been cultivated there for over 4000 years. It is depicted in old paintings as a symbol of fertility and when you break one open, it becomes apparent why.
Other than humans, foods have historically been the next most enthusiastic long distance travelers, many times hitching free rides as seeds in the pockets of their explorers. From Persia the pomegranate made it’s first voyage  to India, then Asia, Egypt and many other sub-tropical climates where it thrives well. In Spain the fruit was especially treasured and the city of Granada, after several previous name changes, was eventually named after the fruit as the trees grew there in abundance on its hill sides. 
Luis Melendez, Spain 1771
As we know, what the Spanish conquerors of the New World did not find in there, they brought with them. In their goodie bags they also had walnuts, nuez de Castillo, from which the creamy white sauce is made that smothers the stuffed chile. The filling of the chiles, the picadillo, is a classic Moorish/Spanish combination of meat, fruits and “warm” spices. The cilantro sprinkled on top came into Mexico via Acapulco from Asia on the mighty and forbiddingly powerful Manila Galleons, los naos de china. So the only indigenous part of this patriotic dish is the chile. However, considering the many gift this country has given to the world, it is a dish resulting from a fabulously harmonious exchange of flavors, a 400 year old food fusion so to speak. 
Chiles en nogada can be a bit challenging for home cooks to prepare, but if you like pomegranate seeds, there are many other ways to use them. My friend Diana Kennedy gleaned a recipe for an unusual guacamole form a family in Comonfort that is easy to make and will most likely become your most favorite way of preparing guacamole. It uses fruits in season including pomegranates and is amazingly delicious and looks beautiful. It holds-up very well, so it can be made a few hours in advance if you are planning to serve it to guests. Treat yourself to the blue corn tortillas that the women from the campo sell at the Mercado San Juan de Ramirez to mop-up this divine but seasonal treat.
The reason you might have shied away from using pomegranates could be not knowing how to manage getting the seeds out of its hard peel. Visions of red splattered clothing and kitchen walls might have deterred you, but here is an easy way to prevent all that., After you see how easy they are to peel, you might just want to start eating them, as long as the season lasts, for breakfast, lunch and dinner because the fruit has an abundance of health properties and —don’t forget the Grenadine for concocting your Kir Royal, sipping it while Augustin Lara is singing his famous composition of “Granada”. This should send you into sheer pomegranate bliss.

A Clean and Easy Way to Peel a Pomegranate

Step 1: Cut the crown end of the pomegranate
Step 2: Lightly score the rind in several places.
Step 3: Immerse fruit in a bowl of water
Step 4: Hold fruit under water and break sections apart, separating seeds from membrane. Seeds will  sink while rind and membrane float
Step 5: Skim off and discard membranes and rind
Step 6: Strain seeds (arils)

For Diana Kennedy's guacamole recipe go to Recipes.

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