The Punica granatum or pomegranate has a strong hold in both Ancient and Modern Greek culture. The jeweled fruit was first referenced in Greek mythology, with Persephone getting tricked to eat pomegranate seeds in the underworld. It is also connected to the Olympian Hera (wife of Zeus) who is represented offering the pomegranate, symbolizing life and death. In modern Greece, the pomegranate has strong symbolic meanings - it's used as a decoration in the house to represent abundance, fertility and good luck. It's often the first gift brought to a new home owner. Pomegranates are present at weddings and funerals (used in Koliva - a symbolic ritual food eaten at after Divine Liturgy, memorial services, and funerals).
I recently put on a five course Greek Autmn pomegranate meal with the help of POM Wonderful. I hosted the party at my place in Portland, where I live with two roommates who also helped me put the party together. I invited some old friends and some new ones (with the prerequisite that they like lamb and retro Greek jazz) to share some of the recipes I created and some that I altered, all incorporated with pomegranate. It was a lovely party of rosy cheeked friends (all blushing from my apron, I think).
Pomegranate Limoncello Cocktail
made with homemade Huntington Beach lemons limoncello
We started off with a Pomegranate Limoncello Cocktail. Although limoncello is an Italian liquor, it's also very popular and common to drink in Greece. In fact, my Aunt Mary's freezer would be naked without a bottle. Although limoncello is more of a summery flavor, I had just finished the limoncello making process started in the summer (using lemons from my Grandfather's backyard in Huntington Beach, CA) and it was finally ready for consumption. A splash of my homemade limoncello, pomegranate juice and soda water topped with pomegranate seeds and a little lemon zest proved to be a refreshing introductory burst of pomegranate for my friends as they arrived. I was busy finishing up the rest of my menu, so one of my guests with excellent bartending skills, took the reigns whipping up cocktails made to order.
I served some snacks to accompany the cocktail. I wanted my guests to try the sweet and slightly sour pomegranate arils in their pure form; contrasting the taste and texture with salted, roasted cashews and marinated olives.
Pomegranate and Cheese Pull Aparts
homemade bread topped with pomegranete and metsovone
I got the idea for these pull aparts from one of my favorite Greek food bloggers, Ionna of Food Junkie, who made kumquat and smoked cheese rolls. I decided pomegranate would also be a great substitution for the tart kumquats and would pair well with the smoky cheese. Metsovone is a smoked cheese from Metsovo, which has a slightly sharp flavor. Of course, this is all in theory that I used Metsovone, which does not exist in Portland, Oregon. The closest cheese I could think of was Asiago and it did the trick. I made the bread from scratch using the 5 minute recipe, which is now the only way I make bread. There is something comforting about pull-apart rolls which is very symbolic of Fall (or maybe it's my childhood Thanksgivings which always consisted of brown-n-serve rolls in a tin). Never-the-less, these rolls turned out phenomenal! I will be making them again.
Pomegranate, Pumpkin and Feta Salad
with local Kuri pumpkin, roasted red onion and maple-soy glazed pepitas
Alongside the rolls, I served this colorful salad. I adore the combination of salty feta and sweet roasted pumpkin and figured it would be even better with burst of pomegranate arils. I decided to roast thick slices of red onion alongside the pumpkin to give the salad a more autumnal toasty feel. Although the maple-soy glazed pepitas are not super Greek, I wanted to include them anyway since maple is very present during the harvest months and the soy sauce counted the sweetness from the maple (I roasted the seeds, the glazed them in equal parts maple syrup, soy sauce and water). I dressed the salad in a fruity olive oil from the island of Kithira, sent to me from my dear Aunt Mary. My guests devoured this salad.
Pomegranate Cinnamon Braised Lamb
with local Oregon lamb and pappardelle
Lamb, goes hand in hand with Greek cuisine, the braised versions being reserved for mostly cooler weather. The cinnamon flavor in meats is something I grew up with - being a quintessential spice in Asia Minor Greek cooking. I was inspired to make this dish from one of my friends and Australia's most awesome Travel and Food blogger, Peter, of Souvlaki for the Soul. I based my recipe of his recipe for Cinnamon Braised Lamb Shanks - exchanging pomegranate juice for the wine. Since I am car-less and a financially responsible student, I wasn't able to buy $60 worth of lamb shanks for my 12 servings, nor could I carry them all on my back. I actually had a long discussion with the butcher at New Seasons explaining to him what I wanted to make, and the butcher team ended up cutting me a 3lb piece of lamb shoulder instead, which turned out to be perfect. I braised the meat for nearly six hours, filing the house with gloriously exotic smells, until it fell off the bone. I would have preferred to serve this meat with hilopites, which are small square shaped pasta found in Greece, but opted for the thick long egg noodles instead.
Pomegranate Pear Phyllo Crostada
with Pomegranate Pistachio Gelato
For dessert I whipped up this crostada using about 1.5 pomegranates and three types of pears. I brushed layers of phyllo dough with olive oil filling the center with the fruit mixture, and folding up the sides. Although I've made ice cream multiple times, this was my first time making gelato. I made the gelato with pomegranate juice and added pistachios for an extra Greek crunch and the creamy concoction came together nicely atop warm crostada .
It was a high antioxidant filled meal with plenty of rosy cheeks at the end. My friends loved taking home their POM goodie bags (with pomegranates inside). The next day I went to one of my friend - pomegranate dinner guest - Laura's house where she served mimosas with pomegranate seeds from the pomegranates I gave her. It made me happy :)
A few days later I came home to find my roommate chowing down on a pomegranate. Below is a clip of Heather eating a pomegranate on the couch, like it's no big deal. This is the "Oregon Style" way to eat a pomegranate: wearing a rain jacket and just going for it in true Oregonian fashion.
Devouring Pomegranate, Oregon Style