Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clementine & Pomegranate Salad with Avocado

As we enter our annual season of indulging in overly rich—and too often sweet—foods, today I thought I would share a recipe that is neither of these things....yet at the same time is eminently "of the season". It is a recipe for a simple and refreshing salad filled with Clementine pinwheels and pomegranate seeds.

Clementines (and their relatives in the Mandarin Orange and Tangerine families) come into season during the fall and continue through the winter months. Even though I eat them all winter long, I associate them particularly with Christmas. Apparently there is good reason for my association: according to Wikipedia they are at their seasonal peak during the month of December.

It is only in recent years that they have become widely available, but now, when they are in season, grocery stores of every size boast large, prominent displays of small crates that are filled with these juicy, sweet and seedless little fruits. So small, you can eat two or three in one sitting, they look beautiful mounded into a big bowl. They make a simple and lovely table centerpiece. And for a holiday dessert, you could do worse than offering those Clementines alongside a few soft, sweet Medjool dates and a saucer of freshly roasted almonds.

In my mind, pomegranates too, are a Christmas fruit. Also available throughout the fall and winter, their bright red color makes them particularly appropriate for the holiday. They can be eaten as a snack...or sprinkled over your breakfast yogurt.

But where they really shine is in a salad—whether the salad is fruit, lettuce or grain-based.

For years I only occasionally enjoyed pomegranate seeds because extracting them from their leathery skin and crumbly white interior membrane seemed like such a tedious activity. In the past couple of years I have noticed that the cleaned seeds (also called arils) are available in the cold prepared foods section of many grocery stores. This of course makes them much easier to eat, but for some reason I have never purchased them this way. Then, I came across a description in Yotam Ottolenghi's book Plenty of how to quickly and efficiently extract pomegranate seeds from their tight little case. This method is so fast and easy, I can't believe it isn't more widely known.

To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, first cut the pomegranate in half horizontally (through the "equator").

Hold one half over a bowl with the cut side against your palm. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, begin to knock on the pomegranate skin.

Continue tapping with increasing force (although not so hard the seeds are bruised) until the seeds have all naturally fallen out and into the bowl (they should fall through your fingers). Once the seeds have ceased to fall, turn the half over and flex the skin inside out to pick out any seeds that remain embedded in the membrane...there shouldn't be too many. Repeat with the second half. Finally, pick through the seeds in the bowl to remove any bits of white skin and membrane that may have fallen in.

I would only add a couple of things to this brilliant method.  First, wear an apron.  There may be some splattering of the juices and pomegranate juice will stain.  Secondly, the first time you utilize this method, be patient.  When you begin, you will think nothing is happening.  But as you continue to rap—rotating the pomegranate half in your hand so that you are rapping all over the skin's surface—the seeds will begin to fall one by one.  Then, they will begin to rain out in abundance. 

You will be astonished at the speed of this method—it should only take two or three minutes. There is no longer any excuse not to enjoy pomegranate seeds. And a great place to start would be in this salad.

If you like to entertain, this salad would make a perfect first course for a holiday dinner party. With the exception of the avocado, all the pieces of this salad can be prepared you can focus on your guests and the other elements of your meal. And best of all its bright, festive and refreshing presence will be a welcome sight for guests who have already had more than their fill for the season of heavy and rich holiday foods.

 Clementine & Pomegranate Salad with Avocado

1 1/2 T. white (or golden) Balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Clementine zest
salt & pepper
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

1 to 1 1/4 lbs. Clementines (or other seedless variety of Mandarin Orange or Tangerine)
2 large ripe, but not too soft, avocados (preferably Haas)
8 small handfuls of mixed baby lettuces (about 5 to 6 oz.)
3/4 to 1 c. Pomegranate seeds from one medium pomegranate

Make the vinaigrette: Place the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, zest and 1/4 t. salt in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth. While whisking, add the olive oil in a thin stream. You should obtain a lightly thickened emulsified vinaigrette. Taste and correct the balance and seasoning. The vinaigrette should be sharp (to balance the sweetness of the fruits).

Prepare the Clementines: Cut the stem and blossom ends from the fruit. Place each fruit cut side down on the cutting board and following the contour of the fruit with your knife, remove the peel and cottony pith—working from top to bottom, and rotating the fruit as you go. When the Clementines are all peeled, slice them cross-wise into 1/4-inch pinwheels. Set aside.

When you are ready to make the salad, halve the avocados and remove the pit and peel. If you like, cut each half in half lengthwise (to obtain a quarter).  Slice the avocado halves (or quarters) cross-wise into 1/4-inch slices. Drizzle with a bit of the vinaigrette and season with salt & pepper.

Place the greens in a large bowl and season with salt & pepper. Drizzle in a small amount of vinaigrette. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, adding more vinaigrette if necessary, until all of the leaves are coated with a light film of dressing.

Place half of the greens on a large platter. Nestle half of the avocado slices and Clementine pinwheels into the greens, being careful not to flatten the greens. Scatter half of the pomegranate seeds over all. Arrange the rest of the greens on top, and tuck the remaining avocado slices and Clementine pinwheels into the salad, again scattering the pomegranate seeds over all. Drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette, if you like. (Alternatively, build the salad on individual salad plates.)

Serves 6 to 8

  • The amounts of Clementine, avocado, salad greens and pomegranate are only a guideline.   The idea is to make a salad that is abundant with fruit.
  • The vinaigrette for this salad is, as noted in the recipe, quite sharp.  If your pomegranate and Clementine are on the acidic side, consider softening the vinaigrette with a little extra oil or the addition of a teaspoon or so of honey. 

Printable Recipe

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