Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Taken for Pomegranate

Let me tell you about one of my best friends, the fair Titania.

We met nearly six years ago in choir, sitting side by side as she sang soprano and I sang tenor in Handel's "Messiah." As is my usual holiday tradition, I baked baklava, and I took several pieces to some of my singing cohorts just before our performance. Titania was so thoroughly impressed that she addressed her Christmas card for me to "The Baklava Queen."

Over the four years she spent here, we shared many a fine dining experience together, whether visiting one of our favorite local restaurants, wandering farther afield for eating and shopping, or cooking at home and making a delicious mess of my kitchen. And though you might think that with my advantage of several years and having a Chef Mother, I would have taught her a great deal about cooking, I'd have to say with all due modesty that she taught me just as much, if not more.

Steamed kale? Never ate it before Titania declared it to be her favorite comfort food and made it for me. Draining yogurt to use like sour cream or cream cheese? All her idea. Fabulously creamy guacamole? It's her recipe I always use (not that I need a recipe any more!).

On top of that, we packed a lifetime of memories into our shared cooking adventures and shared passions for fresh produce (especially from the farmers' market), making simple but lush-tasting desserts (anyone for pears poached in mead and drizzled with a spiced yogurt sauce?), and throwing caution to the wind in order to whip up an experimental dinner that ended up tasting sublime.

While I don't really consider myself a foodie, and I don't succumb to every desire to try something new, the fair Titania does sometimes share some of her experiments and finds with me. And so after she called me one evening and talked while whipping up a braised squash with a very exotic sounding sauce containing pomegranate molasses, I was intrigued.

I'd never even eaten a pomegranate before Titania introduced me to it, but soon I knew how to peel or even juice a fresh pomegranate, I'd had hummus strewn with jewel-like pomegranate seeds at her house for Thanksgiving, and I learned to love drinking pomegranate juice (especially in mocktails). But pomegranate molasses, a thick and tart concentrate of the juice, was new to me, and I oohed and ahhed over her description of it.

Should it surprise anyone, then, that my generous friend then sent me a bottle in a care package and challenged me to find new ways to use it?

Tonight, I finally accepted that challenge. I had half a pound of tofu leftover from Saturday's Indian feast, knowing that I wanted to try Titania's baked tofu recipe (which I believe she got from one of the Moosewood cookbooks but likes to tinker with regularly). And what better way to ease into using pomegranate molasses than with other ingredients in a marinade?

The marinade itself has mostly an East Asian bent: soy sauce combined with rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, cilantro, and orange juice. To that I added a dash of lime juice and about 1 tsp of the pomegranate molasses to bring the flavors back west a bit to straddle the Sino-Indian divide, so to speak.

I marinated the tofu for about an hour, turning it over once to let the sauce seep in thoroughly. Then I baked it in the marinade for about 45 minutes, again turning it once halfway through.

I haven't tried the tofu yet, but it smells absolutely marvelous, and my whole house is filled with its rich garlicky fragrance. I'll see how it turned out tomorrow night, when I throw together an experimental South Asian vegetable braise that I think the fair Titania would enjoy wholeheartedly.

Stay tuned for further developments.


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