Pomegranates, food for the heart

It’s definitely pomegranate season in Marrakesh.  Every city block has its own cart.  And at 6 dirhams a kilo (40 cents a pound) there is no reason to hold back.

pomegranate arils

Do you like pomegranates?  My kids love them, they scream with delight when I serve up a plate of the crimson jewels.  And I scream with delight internally knowing that my kids are crazy about one of the healthiest foods in the world.  Indeed, pomegranates have one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food, three times the amount found in green tea.  Studies have linked pomegranate consumption to reduced blood pressure and bad cholesterol.  The flavenoids (a type of antioxidant) in pomegranates are effective in fighting both breast cancer and skin cancer, and a study has shown that pomegranate juice may slow the growth of prostate cancer.  The pomegranate also has anti-inflammatory properties, a high level of vitamin C and pantothenic acid.  The seeds present in each aril contain unsaturated oils (the good kind), and if you manage to chew them, you’ll be getting more than enough fiber.

Unfortunately, science has still not developed a protocol for picking out a good pomegranate.  It’s one of those obscure skills, like picking out a good watermelon, where many factors are in play.  The color, the amount of give when pressed with your thumb, the smell even.  It takes practice and a refinement of the senses to become a connoisseur.  There is always that moment of anticipation when we open up a pomegranate.    Will it be over-ripe and starting to ferment?  Under-ripe and still a little too tart?  Or will it just glorious; dark, sweet and juicy?

My advice is to just buy loads, you are bound to get some good ones.  Like human beings, a beautiful outside is no indication of what’s on the inside.  It’s usually the most undramatic and unassuming ones (fruits and people) that hide the most precious treasures.

pomegranates in Marrakech In Morocco, pomegranates are a beloved fruit because they are mentioned in the Quran as being one of the fruits of paradise.  In the chapter called “Ar Rahman” or “The Merciful”, the gardens of paradise are described thus, “in them are fruit trees, dates palms and pomegranate trees”.

The commentary on this verse addresses the fact that dates and pomegranates are mentioned distinctly, even though they are both fruits.  This is because dates are distinguished as being a source of nourishment, something a person could live on, while pomegranates are a cure for ailment.  Why would there be a cure for ailment in paradise?  The Sufi commentary points to the fact that some of the people entering paradise have spiritual imperfections, ailments of the hearts, and that the pomegranate tree is a symbol for the cure that they will find.

The Arabic word for pomegranate is rummaan, which in turn comes from a Persian word meaning “to illuminate”.  Indeed the translucent fruit catches and reflects light like a thousand dazzling rubies.  This celebration of light and perfection, each aril fitted to other with the precision of the world’s most delicate puzzle, encased in a dull, thick, leathery and bitter skin, is a perfect analogy for the infinitely complex microcosm that is encased in the human form.  It would only make sense that the pomegranate is a cure for the heart, both through its physical properties, and its spiritual ones.  There is a saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad that says “Whoever eats a pomegranate, God will illuminate his or her heart for forty days”.

So my dear ones, if you live in Morocco or on the Mediterranean basin, make pomegranates a daily delight, and eat to your heart’s content.  If not, then add this to list of reasons to visit.

The green drink

Aaah, it looks like our short, mild winter is over.  I thought I’d never get through those two months of 70 degree weather.  Some nights were so almost cold we actually had to close the windows.  At one point, I was going through our storage, and I discovered a stash of dark-hued, itchy garments.  They were none other than our winter clothes, which I forgot we owned.  No sooner had I gotten them unpacked, when the weather turned on us, and now they are vying for valuable space in our closets with their light-hued, cottony counterparts.

Oh well, those days of suffering are over.  And now, we’re being sublimely rewarded for our patience.  Doesn’t it just feel like, everywhere you look, there is some small celebration of spring?

A reddish rosebush, not yet in bloom, laden with jewelly dew drops…

Pinks and purples, gathered by a young maiden fair…

Yes, greenery and new life is everywhere.

I’ve been celebrating spring with my favorite green smoothie.  The recipe and inspiration comes from a dear friend in Rabat.  It’s the best thing that’s happened to me, foodwise, in a long time.  Taking the time to make this drink feels like the pinnacle of self-pampering.  Would you like to pamper yourself with an amazingly healthy and invigorating green smoothie?

Then you will need:

-Fresh squeezed orange juice (that’s the most labor intensive part)

-A banana, or two

-Something green: spinach, celery, and parsley all work.  Lots of it.  (Washing the green stuff is the second most labor intensive part of this process, but it’s so worth it).

Throw it all in the blender.  You will figure out how much of each ingredient you want.  It should be smooth and frothy.  And although it won’t taste “sweet” in the classic sense, it will taste so fresh, zingy and energizing, that you too will soon be a green smoothie addict.  Why, you can almost feel the antioxidants binding with those bad guy free radicals, efficiently whisking them away.

So, here it is.  It’s so green it looks like a radioactive potion concocted by some evil scientist.    But the only transformative effects this drink will be positive, I assure you.  This drink will give you a little spring stamina, new energy and glowing skin.  Not to mention a little shove in the direction of weight loss, if that is the direction you are needing to go in (are you too a little, um, un-slim now, post-winter?).  Blend, drink and be healthy!