Top Two Winter Fruits, Pomegranates and Persimmons

by Kirke on December 20, 2012

 

 

Winter is perceived as a time of limited fresh fruit availability. But on the northern California coast, there are two fruits that peak during the cold, dark winter months: persimmons and pomegranates. Not usually found in most people’s lists of top ten favorite fruit, they nevertheless constitute a happy marriage, compatible in texture, flavor and color. They just happen to be my top two winter fruits!

The pomegranate (punica granatum, “fruit of many seeds”) is native to Persia and is found in national cuisines from India to Spain, along the axis drawn by the Mediterranean Sea. It is made up of small sections called arils consisting of seeds and juice sacs. The juice has a distinct berry like flavor, but with the crunch of sweet corn. The fruit is perhaps most familiar in the US as the “sunrise” part of tequila sunrise recipes; pomegranate juice was once used to make grenadine. Many health benefits are attributed to this oddly endearing fruit, the most credible being its antioxidant properties. Vitamin content worthy of mention are good amounts of vitamin C and folate, and they are relatively packed with the minerals copper and potassium. You have probably seen commercials for a widely marketed pomegranate juice, you might also have found the same company selling cleaned pomegranate arils in the grocery store, which is super convenient and probably a good thing. On the other hand, I would be loath to miss the opportunity to dive into a whole fruit just for the fun of it. It’s easy to juice your own. Just clean one fruit thoroughly following the instructive video below. Then place the arils into a food processor, leaving out the bitter white membrane, give it a couple of quick pulses, and strain out the pure juice. Pomegranate juice is great added to plain soda or your favorite beverage. However, if you eat your pomegranate in the recipe that follows, you won’t miss out on the generous amount of fiber found in the whole fruit.

 

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If you’ve never had the chance to eat your very own pomegranate, you are one of the fortunate ones because you have the chance, right from the starting gate, to learn the proper way to open the fruit without getting it all over everything. I was thrilled to run across this instructional video on a YouTube excursion that disproves the adage that you can’t teach an old chef-dog new tricks. I, like many others, usually take a chef’s knife and cut the pomegranate in quarters while wearing a garbage bag bib—very messy with wasted juice flying all over. Then I found sproolinski:

 

 

Arf! From now on, pomegranate surgical operations will only occur in sterile kitchen conditions. Thanks sproolinski for sharing this technique, which obviously must be well known in some families…genius!

The other half of this happy marriage is the persimmon. One species (diospyros virginiana) is native to America, but rarely found in your local market. Most of what we find in US grocery stores are two species of Asian persimmons (diospyros kaki), the Hachiya that is soft when ripe, and the Fuyu, which is still firm when ripe. Persimmons are also classified into two types, astringent and non-astringent, a quality ascribed to the tannins in the fruit. The Fuyu persimmon is non-astringent, the tannic acid having been bred out of the cultivar. The heart shaped Hachiya fruit must be ripened until jam-like, almost liquid, which leads to a finite shelf-life. The short, squat Fuyu persimmons can be kept for 4-5 months when stored close to freezing temperatures. The firm, sweet Fuyu persimmons slice easily, have a smooth, subtle, sweet-rich flavor, making them perfect for the recipe that follows.

I love the look of a late December persimmon tree. The leaves all drop before the fruit does, resulting in a Charlie Brown-looking Christmas tree appearance, all bare branches with fruit left like hanging ornaments.

 

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Persimmon Trees With Leaves and Without

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Perhaps the plant evolved this way, leaves dropping before the fruit, so birds can more easily access the fruit, leading to greater disbursement of the seed.

The Recipe:

This recipe is a microcosm of how the right mixture of healthy foods can meld into something delightful for the senses while being incredibly nutritious at the same time. The dish might seem complicated on first glance, but some tasks can be taken care of the day before and the techniques are actually really easy. All the components are low-fat, nutrient-dense (low calorie/high nutrient), and seasonal for winter in Northern California. The recipe utilizes a wide variety of foods that come together into a coherent whole with layered textures and aroma-fed flavors that will wow your senses.

The chefly portion of my palate prefers building layers of texture, flavor and temperatures. The Wehani rice adds a satisfying chewy texture, the pomegranate adds crunch with sweet spiciness refreshed with mint, and layered on top is the warm, rich grilled persimmons. The combination of cool, spicy, crunchy refreshing pomegranate, with the charred warm, sweet grilled persimmon is a winter revelation. All that’s missing is something creamy and smooth, something consistent with the Middle eastern/southern-Asian pedigree of the meal. I picked tahini-yogurt sauce. Sesame tahini adds some fatty roundness, the yogurt some tangy creaminess, and the garlic adds bite.

A component of the dish I am excited to introduce to those unfamiliar, is the earthy Lundberg organic Wehani rice. To say I am not fond of most brown rice is akin to saying I don’t much enjoy a root-canal=understatement. But—I love this whole grain, Indian-Basmati type rice that Lundberg spent ten years developing. Its nutty umami aroma will stimulate the appetite of anyone within smelling range when you set the rice to simmering. The texture is hearty with a pleasant and satisfying chew without any toughness. The Lundberg Family Farms started growing utilizing organic techniques back in 1969, becoming one of the first (#2!) California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in 1988. Watching Bryce Lundberg’s enthusiasm for what he does in the video below is contagious. I just want to dive in with Bryce and grab a handful of that loamy rich-looking earth and squeeze it between my fingers, don’t you?

 

 

You can find where to buy Lundberg Family Farms products through this link:

http://www.lundberg.com/Info/Where_to_Buy.aspx

Please visit their website to watch more edifying videos and read valuable information about their other organic products. Lundberg Wehani takes an hour to cook but don’t let that slow you down: (1) it is virtually impossible to overcook, (2) it reheats well on top of the stove or in a microwave, (3) consequently, you can cook it the day ahead, (4) if you find the texture too chewy try soaking it overnight and it will soften up. The brown rice I disliked was bland and wooden tasting with an aroma of wet socks. The aroma of Wehani rice makes me salivate, and the taste is richly nutty. Yum.

The Best Marinated Chicken, Grilled with Persimmons, served with Lundberg Wehani  Rice, Tahini-Yogurt Sauce and Spicy Orange and Pomegranate Relish

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Grilled Chicken with Pomegranates and Persimmons

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Execution:

There are three chores that can be done the day before if you choose: marinating the chicken, mixing the tahini yogurt sauce, and cooking the Wehani rice. The pomegranate can be cleaned ahead as well, but I would suggest mixing the ingredients for the relish on the day of the dinner.

Chicken Marinade:

The chicken marinade has earned appreciative reviews from customers, clients, and relatives, which isn’t a surprise once you know it’s a modified centuries old East Indian tandoori recipe. The Indian culture knows how to spice up their lives, and have done so for millennia. The marinade is laudable for a few reasons: it just takes a few minutes to throw together, it uses fresh ingredients, it’s very easy to fix with a fine grater in hand, and it flavors, tenderizes, and moisturizes the meat. It even extends the shelf-life of the finished product. Mostly, people seem to love the lively flavors the marinade imparts to chicken.

Ingredients:

  • 4 each       chicken breast halves, boneless, about 2-3 pounds
  • 1/2             yellow onion, peeled
  • 2 inches    fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 cloves     garlic, peeled
  • Zest of 2    lemons, organic, washed (skin of commercial fruit retains pesticides)
  • Juice of 1  of the lemons
  • 2 Tbs.        pure olive oil
  • 1 tsp.          chile paste (substitute with 1/2 tsp. cayenne)
  • 1 Tbs.         ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp.          ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp.      ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp.      sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp.      freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Using a fine grater, grate the onion, ginger and garlic into a bowl large enough to hold the chicken breasts. Alternatively, you can puree the vegetables in a food processor.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  3. Take a dinner fork and pierce the chicken breast repeatedly on both sides.
  4. Toss the chicken breast in the marinade until it is completely coated.
  5. Let the marinating chicken sit covered in the refrigerator for at least an hour before cooking. The longer it marinates the more the flavor will permeate the meat.
  6. Leaving the marinade on the meat, grill the chicken breast until it is just done. About 8 minutes on each side.

This is a recipe for a grilled meal. From my necessarily opinionated chef perspective, I recommend using mesquite charcoal lit with a chimney starter or an electric coil starter. If you have decided to eat something grilled, wood charcoal is the best way to achieve the flavor profile of something “grilled.” If you don’t care about the results as much as I do, or are sensitive about carcinogens in charred food, or about releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere, feel free to sauté, bake or broil the meat and the persimmons. If so, sautéing the persimmons in hot oil very fast to brown well is recommended, but do so with caution because it will splatter, and will fall apart if cooked too long.

For the persimmons:

  • 4 persimmons, washed (buy organic if available).
  • Plan on using about one persimmon per person, or three slices each.
  • Slice the persimmons about 1/4 inch thick, discarding the stem end.

Either slice them minutes before grilling, or slice them hours before and place them between parchment/wax paper because they will stick together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill them hot and quickly. For best results, wipe the grill with some oil and cook the persimmons before the chicken, initially leaving them on the grill long enough to get nice grill marks. It is OK to just cook them on the one side, just don’t overcook them. You can throw the persimmons back on the grill to heat them up just before service.

Tahini-Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. of plain non-fat greek yogurt (substitute with any non-fat yogurt)
  • 4 Tbs. tahini
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp. of fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt to taste

Method:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a food processor
  2. Using pulse, puree, scraping down between pulses
  3. Puree until completely smooth
  4. Adjust for salt and/or lemon

Spicy Orange-pomegranate Relish:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 of a large, heavy, firm pomegranate, cleaned thoroughly of white membranes
  • 2 oranges:
  •   Zest of one medium organic orange
  •   Both segmented, (see method below)
  • 2 Tbs. of finely diced red onion
  • 1 tsp. of finely minced serrano chile (optional), (substitute other chile or 1/8 tsp cayenne)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint leaves (substitute Italian parsley or basil, not dried mint!)
  • 1/8 tsp. of sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper

Method:

To segment the two oranges: first cut the ends off the oranges, then cut the rinds off leaving only the meat of the fruit. Using a paring knife, cut next to the membrane in each section, removing all the pulp of membrane-less segments into a non-reactive mixing bowl. Squeeze and add any juice remaining.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Cover and store until plating.

See the accompanying photographs of the dish for a serving suggestion. You can use your imagination and arrange the ingredients however you like. Enjoy!

References:

Persimmon. (2012, December 15). Retrieved December 17, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persimmon

Pomegranate. (1996). In F. Fortin (Ed.), The visual food encyclopedia (pp. 250-251). New York, NY: Macmillan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

joy January 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Hey Chef! Thanks a million! This meal could not have been easier to prepare and I love EASY. I really appreciated all the thoughtful tips you provided as to what steps could be accomplished ahead of time. I prepared ahead of time, everything you said could be done a day earlier. The relish went together in a snap the morning of the dinner which allowed me to put the meal together in the amount of time it took to cook the chicken and poof a beautiful , flavorful , healthy meal . This is my husband’s new favorite 🙂
Thanks again!

Reply

Kirke January 1, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Hey Joy, I’m glad you gave the recipe a try. As to your kind comments, the check is in the mail! Keep cooking that whole food stuff.

Reply

joy December 27, 2012 at 4:37 pm

What an eye opener… I have been mutilating pomegranates for years! Thank you thank you…

I am going to try this chicken recipe, too. It is just too pretty not to be good 🙂

Thanks!!!

Reply

Kirke December 27, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Give thanks to sproolinski, I did! I have always had fun making a mess, but now I can have fun keeping it clean. Thanks for trying the recipe. Let me know how it turns out.

Reply

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