It’s Pomegranate Season at Asena

The garnet grenades bejewel local dishes, including pistachio- crusted lamb chops, and herald autumn.


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Pistachio crusted lamb chops with pomegranate.

Photo by Lori Eanes

While kidnapped by Hades and trapped in the underworld, Persephone—lovely daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the harvest goddess—couldn’t help herself: She slipped six ruby pomegranate seeds between her lips. Her snack, so the Greek myth goes, ensured si months of annual below-ground marital duty to Hades, and thus six months each year of Demeter’s maternal grief, when the Earth is grimly forbidden to bear fruit.

In short, winter is coming, no thanks to Persephone. But really, who can blame her? The pomegranate fruit’s dense, gem-like, juice-taut seeds, or arils, are irresistible.

Clustered like exquisite roe inside a pink orb of appealing fortitude (it’s no wonder the military borrowed the word “grenade” from the French word for the fruit), pomegranate seeds are tiny treasures to unearth from a labyrinth of inedible white membrane. They are a delight to simply nibble or spoon over salads or into sauces. The color alone—a saturated, purplish red to set the vampiric heart aflutter—calls to mind autumn sunsets over the Mediterranean. And then there’s the flavor.

“It’s acidic and fruity, something like cranberry with flavors of cherry and blackberry,” enthused Turkish-born chef Mustafa Yildirim of Asena Restaurant in Alameda. “It reminds me of Primitivo, the Italian Zinfandel.”

Rich in vitamins C, K, folate, and fiber, pomegranates and their juice are used often in traditional Turkish cooking. Chef Yildirim—who has lived in the states since 1990—is pleased that they not only flourish in California’s shared Mediterranean climate, but that pomegranate concentrates have become staples at local specialty groceries. He chooses fruit that is smooth, has good color, and is blemish-free, and samples one or two from a producer to check flavor character first before buying more. He also assures newcomers to the fruit that harvesting the arils is simpler than it seems.

“Here is how we did it growing up,” he said. “Cut off both ends [the top and the bottom] and score it gently through the skin along the natural ridges. Peel the fruit into sections and then simply apply pressure to remove the seeds.” Yildirim does not recommend, as other cooks do, harvesting pomegranate seeds into a bowl of water. Though the pith does rise to the surface, and the juicy seeds collect in a far tidier fashion, “it dilutes the flavor,” he insisted.

Here, chef Yildirim coats another Mediterranean favorite, lamb, with a sauce of pomegranate and crust of pistachio.

Asena Restaurant, 2508 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, 510-521-4100, www.AsenaRestaurant.com.

 

Pistachio Crusted Lamb Chops with Pomegranate

 

Serves 6

 

For the pomegranate sauce:
1 cup Ruby Port
1/4 cup pomegranate concentrate (Sadaf recommended)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

For the lamb chops

1/2 cup roasted and salted pistachios, shelled
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
6 lamb rib chops, Frenched
Salt and pepper

 

Preheat oven to 450°F.

For the pomegranate glaze: In a saucepot over medium heat, combine all ingredients except butter. Stir, bringing to a boil, then reduce by half until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Off heat, stir in butter then cover and set aside.

For the lamb: In a food processor or by hand, combine pistachios, garlic, and rosemary until finely chopped and pour onto a plate. Season lamb chops with salt and pepper, then dredge in the pistachio mixture and press to coat. Place the chops on baking sheet in the oven and cook 6 minutes per side (12 minutes total). Remove and rest the chops for 5 minutes.

Plate with sauce and serve.

Published online on Sept. 15, 2016 at 8 a.m.

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