Chickpea and pomegranate salad makes a nice lunch, with color and crunch. (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Chickpea and pomegranate salad makes a nice lunch, with color and crunch. (Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

To escape the winter blues, try seeing red — pomegranate red

The visual appeal alone may explain why it’s one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world.

By Rebecca Powers / The Washington Post

The winter-morning kitchen is quiet except for the soft scuff of my slippers as I step to the chilly back hall and fetch a white, oxford shirt from its hook beside the aprons and the stockpot.

It’s a man-sized washable, bleachable shield against messy tasks, such as seeding a pomegranate.

In my hand, a softball-sized, mottled pomegranate is pregnant with the promise of rich color.

Before reading the news of the day (or maybe because of it) the task of freeing pomegranate seeds is pleasingly meditative. Score the skin and break away the sections beneath the surface of water in a bowl to avoid a CSI-worthy spray on the white backsplash tile.

(The other recommended method — slicing the skin at its equator, twisting it in half and then slapping the seeds free — seems too violent at the coffee hour.)

My fingers working underwater, loosening the thin tissue that separates crimson chambers, make vaguely aquarium-like sounds; the occasional seed plops like a fish surfacing. Nutritionists say the ruby fruit possesses powerful polyphenols that tame inflammation. I’d add that the relaxing task of seeding also serves as a tonic.

I grew up in a home where — except for the tinned sardines my father liked at lunch — the word “Mediterranean” nowhere near described the food on our table. I came late to pomegranates through the marketing of juice (POM) for health, and also for the gemlike allure of pre-seeded packs at the gourmet grocery near my house. I purchased them that way once or twice until I just couldn’t justify the cost.

“I just buy it already seeded at Costco,” a houseguest and good cook said to me recently as she spooned a warehouse-store sized helping onto her yogurt at my kitchen island.

But just as I’ve never bought prepared pie crust, picking up already-seeded poms is something I can’t bring myself to do. I like sorting through the mound of globes in the produce aisle, hefting candidates for the heaviest fruit.

Red is not a color I wear — in clothing, lipstick or nail polish. Dreary, deep-red roses are my least favorite of Valentine’s long stems. But in this month, when early garden blooms are still hibernating inside bulbs, I’m happy for red, as if, like paper hearts cascading across shop windows, it’s a harbinger of brighter days.

My mother liked to make cherry pie on Washington’s Birthday, a sweet honor based on the I-cannot-tell-a-lie fable. But maybe her baking tradition was done more out of a late February need for color when she was tired of bark brown.

We eat brown and black seeds, of course, some just out of duty to maintaining our health (think flax and chia). But the pomegranate seed has an added vibrant (and some say aphrodisiac) benefit, offering a mood boost as happy as a sunny-side-up in the morning and shining jewels at dinner.

The visual appeal may explain why it’s one of the oldest cultivated fruits and a symbol in Grenada, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

In my own kitchen, it’s simply a bright spot in the day, in a season when we’re hungry for color.

Chickpea and pomegranate salad

This bright and easy salad makes a nice lunch, with color and crunch.

It’s cost-effective to buy a whole pomegranate and harvest its seeds, instead of buying the seeds separately. We like to cut the fruit horizontally in half, and, working with one half at a time, hold it in hand cut side down over a bowl of water in the sink. Use a wooden spoon to whack the skin hard enough that you can feel the seeds falling out, through your fingers and into the water. (Any white pith that also falls will float to the top, to be easily discarded.)

Make ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance. The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

1 cup plain, instant couscous

1 cup boiling water

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 14-ounce can no-salt-added chickpeas (about 1¾ cups), drained and rinsed

1 cup pomegranate seeds (arils; from 1 fresh pomegranate)

½ cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine the couscous, boiling water and ¼ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir and cover tightly with plastic wrap; let sit for 10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, whisk together the garlic, pomegranate molasses (to taste), lemon juice and oil in a liquid measuring cup to form an emulsified dressing.

When ready to serve, add the chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, mint, parsley and the remaining ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper to the couscous, then pour the dressing over and toss to incorporate.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Nutrition per serving (based on 6): 310 calories, 10 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 100 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugar.

— Adapted from the Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe in Arlington, Virginia.

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