Thursday, January 31, 2013

SWEET LEMONS

I promise every post is not going to be about random fruits and how to juice them.  But here's the thing - these lemons will cure you.  Well, so say my parents.   

At the first sign of a cold, a random sneeze, cough or sniffle - my dad will run out and return with a four pound bag of sweet lemons.  Mention to my mom over the phone that Soleil (my 3 year old daughter) has a little cough and I have to take an oath that as soon as we hang up I will start cutting up some sweet lemons.  Because - these sweet lemons will cure you!     

Every culture (particularly old world cultures), every family has certain idiosyncrasies and rituals that get passed down from generation to generation.  Over time, some of these "superstitions" change and adapt.  But some prevail and linger around, a constant little whisper in your ear. And my culture is FULL of them.  It's winter - cold and flu season - a particularly popular time for these little whispers.  Or, in my family's case, not really a whisper but more of a full-on voice command:

Never sleep with wet hair
NEVER go out with wet hair
Always wear socks (especially on hardwood or tile floors)
NEVER sleep in front of a draft or in an air conditioned room
You'll catch a cold - cover up your throat and chest (oh dreaded turtle neck that was my nemesis as a six year old) 
Always wash hands as soon as you get home (this one is an all year round one and a given but I'm always surprised, so many people don't)

And it goes on and on.  So many times as a rebellious teenager I would try to argue that none of these have been proven scientifically, medically.  The doctors don't know what they're talking about, is what they would say.  Now, it should be pointed out here that my parents have the utmost respect for western/modern medicine.  In fact, sneeze once and in the same breath as telling you to go pick up some sweet lemons they'll urge you to call the doctor and make an appointment.  And I suppose now as an adult and a mother I have grown to fully appreciate this embrace of both the scientific and the traditional.  And for the record I still can't sleep with wet hair and can now fully appreciate a nice soft turtleneck.  What can I say - my parents were right.

Sweet lemons are exactly that - sweet.  And packed with vitamin C.  They are rounder than regular lemons with a softer and thinner rind.  These are not Meyer lemons as many people think they are.  The Persian markets usually have them at this time of year.  I have been lucky to find organic ones at the citrus stand at our local Santa Monica farmer's market.  And every week at that stand, I manage to convert a handful of people and families into sweet lemon fanatics.  They approach the sample slice with suspicion and skepticism.  I gently push them to try one.  They grab a slice, pucker up their lips in anticipation of what they assume will be sour and - epiphany! - their eyes widen in delight at the first burst of sweetness.  In contrast, I can also always pick out the Persians who show up  like me and fill their bag with 4 pounds of sweet lemons.

The girls love these.  Whenever we have a friend over who is curious about the lemons they chant in unison: try it try it!  Most of the time we just slice them up into wedges and enjoy them as is.  Or we juice them simply by hand.  Fresh lemonade the girls call it.  Just make sure to drink the juice right away.  Sweet lemon juice gets bitter if it sits out too long. 

So go ahead.  Try it try it!  Because these lemons will cure you.

The whisper has been passed.  From one generation to the next.

 


 

Friday, January 25, 2013

POMEGRANATE JUICE - ABEH ANAR

This pomegranate brought me back to life!

So said my 6 year old daughter Luna when she got through the very last drop of her abeh anar - pomegranate juice.  Next came the search for any surviving seeds that didn't have their juice sucked right out of them.  Dainty, stained fingers ripped though the ravaged piece of fruit in hopes of one more little morsel, one more blood-red seed, one more crunch.  

My childhood in Iran during the autumn months meant the arrival of pomegranates, and with it the cold winter months.  The pomegranates would be quartered for us, and we'd pick through them for seeds. An after-school snack, dessert, something to keep us occupied and out of the way of the adults for a while.  But what I loved most was sucking the juice right out of the pomegranate.  No juicers, no special equipment.  Just a strong yet careful pair of hands to do the squeezing.

Juicing a pomegranate


1 pomegranate, rinsed (organic if possible) 

I highly recommend doing this over the kitchen sink at first until you get the hang of it.  And it is also advisable to not wear your favorite freshly laundered and pressed white men's button-down.  So go ahead and put on an apron. 
It should also be pointed out that my husband is the official pomegranate squeezer in our house.  Like I said - strong yet careful hands.

Gently but firmly squeeze the pomegranate with both hands to release the juice inside the seeds. 

You will start to feel the seeds crunch and the fruit soften.  
Work your way through the entire fruit.  
You want the  pomegranate to soften but don't over do it or the fruit will burst.  
Take care not to  break through the skin.  
If you do - don't panic - try to recover as much of the juice as possible.  It might involve sticking your head right under the pomegranate with your tongue dashing about madly trying to catch every antioxidant-filled drop of delicious life-altering goodness.  This will not look pretty.  But it will be oh so delicious.
If you have been successful and have not been afflicted by the above-mentioned calamity, take a sharp pointed tool like the tip of a knife and make a small incision in the skin somewhere in the middle of the pomegranate.  BE READY.


The juice is going to come gushing through.  So have a mouth ready to start sucking the heck out of that fruit.  Gently squeeze as you suck. 
Or you can squeeze the juice right in a glass. 
On most days my girls want the juice right away and don't want to work for it, so we squeeze it in a glass.  They drink up that juice in one straight shot. 

 Luna, take a breath in between sips.  

But Mama, it's so good.  I can't stop.

It's mid-winter and we won't be enjoying pomegranates for much longer.  But for now, while we still can, we'll keep on squeezing, and relishing this ethereal nectar from this fruit that seems to carry with it stories from far away lands, from times long, long ago.  Or maybe it's just a reminder of a time not so long ago.  A reminder of a childhood in a land that was once home.  A reminder of children walking around sucking on pomegranates.

Get yourself a pomegranate and let those seeds and juices bring you back to life.  


Thank you for joining me on this food journey!  And tell me, how did the pomegranate squeezing go for you? 


UPDATE: My mom just checked out my inaugural post and she called right away with some advice.  As she is apt to do.  From Maman:  When looking for the juiciest pomegranate choose one with a bumpy surface.  Not a smooth surface.  Those bumps are the juicy seeds bulging out.  
Good to know!