Pomegranate molasses (Recipe: pomegranate snow swirls)
My Cousin Martin travels the world to search out all sorts of foods and kitchen tools for The Perfect Pantry.
Well, maybe that's not his only reason for traveling, but he does bring me wonderful things. Wooden spoons from everywhere, and ravioli cutters and gnocchi paddles. Iranian saffron. Tahitian vanilla beans and Mexican vanilla extract. Cookbooks from Costa Rica and Mongolia. Silicone baking sheets from France, years before Silpats were common here.
I've grown accustomed to these treats from far-off lands. So, when Cousin Martin unveiled his latest gift, I looked at the bottle and said oh, ho hum, more Tahitian vanilla.
But no, this was better. Much better.
The little bottle that once held precious vanilla extract from Tahiti now contained something infinitely more interesting: homemade pomegranate molasses, from his own kitchen.
Pomegranate molasses, also called pomegranate syrup, is a traditional Middle Eastern condiment made from the sugar in the juice extracted from fresh pomegranates. Though the fruit is native to Iran, most pomegranate molasses are bottled in Lebanon. Thick and syrupy in texture, pomegranate molasses (not molasses, really, but with the same consistency) provides a sweet-tart citrusy flavor.
Try it in sweet or savory dishes: drizzled over ice cream, in beef short ribs, pomegranate-olive jam, eggplant-lentil stew, marinades, cupcakes, braised pomegranate chicken, or honey-roasted sweet potatoes.
Cousin Martin's pomegranate molasses is truly a labor of love, so I asked him to describe how he made it:
I bought a case of pomegranates at Costco and then had to figure out what to do with them. I went online to learn how to "juice" them. A few sites said to halve or quarter the fruits and put them in a big bowl full of water. Gently separate the seeds from the skin/membrane. When done, the membrane floats to the top and the seeds sink. Skim off the membrane and drain the seeds. Put in a blender and whiz for a second or two to just break the seeds. Transfer to a sieve and push the juice out with a wooden spoon, discarding the residue in the strainer. Each pomegranate yields a little less than a cup. Getting 24 ounces (because I used an old wine bottle to put the juice in) took about 15 minutes and very cold hands!
Here's an easier way: quarter or halve the pomegranates, and put them into a manual orange squeezer. I have an old heavy clunky metal one from Mexico that is 25 years old. I dug it out of the closet and used it, squeezing pomegranate halves. This method was less efficient in terms of juice, as it left some of the seeds unbroken, but it was MUCH faster.
To make the molasses, I placed about 2 cups of the juice in a Corning Ware dish (I was afraid that metal might react to the acid in the juice) and gently simmered the juice over low heat until it became the consistency of syrup.
Of the many bits of lore surrounding pomegranates, my favorite is this: In ancient times, a Berber woman would draw a circle on the ground and drop a pomegranate into the center. The number of seeds that spilled out predicted the number of children she would bear.
I like Cousin Martin's idea better.
Pomegranate snow swirls
A great do-it-yourself activity for your dinner guests; everyone can make his or her own decoration for bowls of store-bought frozen yogurt or ice cream. If you don't have fresh, clean snow, make these with either shave ice, if you have a handy Hawaiian shave ice gizmo, or with ice you've crushed in the blender. Store leftover pomegranate syrup in the refrigerator, and reheat gently to desired consistency.
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (homemade, or store-bought)
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water, and bring to a boil over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat, and carefully add the pomegranate molasses. Return pot to the heat, reduce to low. As the water begins to evaporate, it will bubble, and bubble some more.
After 1 minute, gently swirl the pan a bit. After another minute, stir the syrup to check the consistency. It should be thick, but not yet beginning to brown, and it should dribble off a spoon.
Remove the pot from the heat while you prepare your snow (if you're using real snow outdoors, you should do this before making the syrup). Either tamp down an area of clean snow, or fill a rimmed sheet pan with packed snow. Or make shave ice in your blender, and pack it into a sheet pan so you have a cold, flat surface.
Using a spoon, drizzle the pomegranate syrup over the snow, in any pattern. If your syrup has not gotten too caramelized, it will be easier to control. If it has, you'll end up with some funky drizzles like Ted's, because I overcooked my syrup by just a few seconds. But there's nothing wrong with funky drizzles.
When they've set, which is almost instantaneous, lift the swirls from the snow, and arrange them on bowls of vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream.