The odd snowflake aside, there isn’t much about Istanbul that suggests Christmas. Sure, there is the odd street Christmas decoration disguised as New Year’s decoration, but after a tough year the preferred decoration of the day are Turkish flags. But in a couple of days, I’m heading north to celebrate Christmas with my family. And with no shortage of Christmas decorations. Or food. Cured lamb ribs, a traditional Norwegian dish, on Christmas Eve, pork belly on Christmas Day. Just like every Christmas I can remember.
But after the lamb ribs and pork belly (and cakes and desserts), cravings shift to something a little lighter. And on days like that, it’s good to know that even in the midst of winter, there are delicious fruits in season. Oranges, clementines and pomegranate are some of my favourites – in fact I prefer them even to most summer fruits.
Since they’re so tasty, little more is needed than simply slicing them up and topping with a simply Christmas spiced syrup for a delicious and fresh Christmas dessert or snack. And it’s all done in a matter of minutes.
The ingredient list is straightforward enough: Just pick the fruits you’ve already got sitting in the Christmas fruit platter anyway, dig up a couple of spices you bought for the holidays and you’re pretty much there. If you can’t find pomegranate molasses where you are, substitute a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Or make your own by squeezing the juice of a pomegranate and boiling it until it has become a syrup (save any excess for later).
I can already hear the million dollar question being asked: How does one peel a pomegranate?
As a matter of fact, the miraculous method that is completely hassle and splash free doesn’t exist. But the best method I’ve tried, which is very efficient and causes minimal splashing and spoilage, is this: Make a 1-2 cm incision all the way around the pomegranate. Use your hands to split the fruit into two. Fold it outwards until you hear it cracking a little – this opens up the inside a little so it’s easier for the seeds to fall out. Don’t worry if it tears in a couple of places. Place one pomegranate in the palm of your hand, cut-side down. Keep over a large-ish bowl and hit it gently with a wooden utensil (use a fairly heavy one). Try to hit it just hard enough for the seeds to fall into the bowl, but not so hard you smash the ones closest to the skin into juice. Don’t use too much force or you’ll end up with more juice than seeds. Occasionally, membrane will keep the seeds trapped, so if nothing comes out, turn around and see if this is the case. If so, remove the membrane and the seeds should follow immediately. Keep going until you’ve got all the seeds out. Repeat with the other half. A few small pieces of white membrane are bound to have fallen into your bowl with the seeds – locate these and discard along any seeds that look a little off (if any).
Think of the recipe below less as a recipe and more of a general method and idea. Use the fruits you like best or happen to have to hand. Use your preferred Christmas spices for the syrup. I like mine with plenty of cardamom aroma – if this is not your thing substitute or reduce the amount. I tend to slice my fruits – serve it the way you like it. And don’t feel bound by the suggestion of pistacchios either. Hazelnut, walnut or almonds will work just as well, as I’m sure will plenty of other types. Or, indeed, leaving them out altogether, perhaps opting for a scattering of finely sliced fresh mint instead. Serves 2-3.
- 2 oranges
- 50 g sugar
- 25 g (1 2/3 tbsp) pomegranate molasses
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2-3 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed (see picture above)
- 2 clementines or mandarines, peeled and cut into slices
- 1 large pomegranate, seeds only
- small handfull pistacchios or other nuts, roughly chopped (toasted if you like)
Peel off two strips of orange peel. I use a vegetable peeler for this. Make sure none of the white comes along or it’ll make the whole affair bitter. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice out of one half. Peel the other half, along with the other orange, and cut into slices.
- Mix the orange peel, orange juice, sugar, pomegranate molasses and spices in a small pot. Bring to the boil and let simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved completely. Set aside and let come to room temperature.
- Arrange the slices of orange and clementine on a plate. Scatter the pomegranate seeds on top. Add as much of the spiced syrup you like – the sweeter your fruits the less you’ll need. If you find you put too much, rebalance by adding a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Top with chopped pistacchios.