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Make your meals mythic with pomegranate seeds

A pomegranate is like a jewelry box. Open it up and you'll see clusters of very juicy garnet seeds encased in a smooth off-white pulp. The seeds burst in your mouth, offering tiny pops of an intense, slightly tannic juice. Soon, your fingers and teeth -- even the front of your shirt -- will be stained with burgundy drops.

A Greek myth links pomegranate seeds to Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter, and to the explanation for winter, says Alan Davidson in "The Oxford Companion to Food." Hades kidnapped Persephone and Zeus demanded she be returned to her mother. Meanwhile, Demeter mourned Persephone's abscence by stopping plants from flourishing. While she was in the underworld, Persephone refused to eat, but did take some seeds of the underworld's red fruit. She coughed up all but six seeds, and once she was freed, she had to return to the underworld and stay a month for each seed. During that time, plants bore no fruit and the world became winter.

In this world, pomegranate season lasts until December. It began earlier this month with the harvest of a bigger, sweeter, and darker variety than had previously been available.

Pomegranates are a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine: syrup and molasses are both made from a sour variety of the fruit, and pomegranate seeds add a tart flavor to sauces and spreads. Sprinkle the bright red dots on a simple bowl of hummus and you'll transform the dish. Or scatter them on green salads, couscous, steamed rice, broiled fish, or roast leg of lamb. In December, when oranges come into season, the vibrant pomegranate seeds are stunning on thick slices of navel oranges.

The only thing you can't do with the red jewels is wear them.


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