Be Merry / Liquid Rubies

Thanks to an ancient method of preserving pomegranates, you can enjoy the taste of these seasonal fruits all year round.

Pomegranates have a relatively short season, about three months long, from September to November or early December. They have a wonderfully balanced sweet and sour taste, and an intoxicating aroma full of nectar.

In antiquity, Middle Eastern peoples would preserve pomegranates by boiling their juice into a thick, potent syrup. Nowadays, too, pomegranate concentrate is used year round. It plays a significant role in the various Levantine cuisines, and is used in countless foods and dishes. With its distinct taste and deep maroon color, pomegranate concentrate can enrich chicken and beef, stuffed vegetables, various dishes made with flatbreads like lahmacun (Turkish delicacy ), salads and chilled beverages.

Pomegranate concentrate - Limor Laniado Tiroche - 12102011
Limor Laniado Tiroche

Making homemade pomegranate concentrate is simple and rewarding. You squeeze the juice from sweet pomegranates using a manual juice press (like the kind you see at juice stands and kiosks ), and then cook it over a low fire with sugar and a little lemon juice, uncovered, so the liquids can evaporate, until you have a dark, thick syrup.

Sure, you can buy pomegranate concentrate ready-made at any grocery store, but it will have unnecessary preservatives. Furthermore, most ready-made concentrates are produced from sour pomegranates and therefore loaded with white sugar.

Homemade pomegranate concentrate made from sweet pomegranates contains more fructose, which is better for you, and less white sugar. It will keep in the 'fridge for a year when properly sealed in a sterilized jar.

In modern Israeli cuisine, pomegranate concentrate can take the place of vinegar or lemon juice and refresh salad dressings, and it can enrich homemade tahini, season beet and Swiss chard salads, enhance tomato sauce for pasta, and add flavor to marinades for poultry and to meatballs and wintry lamb stews. A little pomegranate concentrate makes a refreshing addition to iced drinks alongside spearmint, and to alcoholic beverages like arak or vodka, along with a little fresh lemon verbena and pomegranate seeds.

For 400 milliliters of syrup:

1 liter fresh pomegranate juice

200 grams ( 1 cup ) sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. lemon juice

Bring the pomegranate juice, sugar, salt and lemon juice to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Lower the heat. Let simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced into a thick syrup (similar in consistency to maple syrup ). This generally takes between an hour and an hour and a quarter. Take into account that the syrup will thicken further when it cools.

Makes 10 servings.

1 slice of white bread without the crust

2 cups cold water

1/4 kilo ground flank steak

1/4 kilo ground lamb

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/2 cup chopped parsley

3 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the salsa:

3 ripe tomatoes, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 hot green pepper, chopped

1 tbsp. pomegranate concentrate

For the garnish:

raw tahini

Soak the bread for an hour in two cups of cold water. Squeeze out thoroughly.

Combine the meat with the bread, olive oil, chopped onion, parsley and spices. Mix thoroughly for at least 10 minutes.

Form thick flat patties; chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, covered in cling-wrap.

Grill the kebabs on a hot griddle pan for five minutes on each side.

Mix the salsa ingredients in a bowl. Pile a little salsa on top of each kebab, garnish with 1/2 teaspoon raw tahini, and serve with fresh pita.

Makes eight servings.

12 chicken parts (equivalent to a whole chicken and a half, cut into sections)

For the marinade:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup pomegranate concentrate

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the sauce:

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 leeks, sliced into rounds

4 celery stalks, sliced into thin rounds

10 garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise

3 tbsp. olives: kalamata, nabali, or cracked Syrian variety

4 whole fennels, cut into quarters or eighths

1 lemon, with top and bottom cut off, sliced into thin rounds

2 tomatoes, chopped into large cubes

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds

10 saffron threads

Rinse the chicken and dry thoroughly with a towel. Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl. Massage the chicken with the marinade and refrigerate for an hour.

In a large oven-safe pot, saute the leeks in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add celery, garlic and olives; continue sauteeing for another five minutes, stirring periodically. Add the fennel wedges and lemon and saute for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and spices, stir; cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat.

Turn up the heat a little, add the chicken and marinade, and cook for 20 minutes, covered. Lower heat again and cook for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Put the pot of chicken in the oven and roast for another hour. Serve with white rice or couscous.