In Search of Meaning & the Perfect Pomegranate Chicken (& Seitan)

pomegranate & shofar

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah I have been thinking about what I always seem to be thinking about …. namely food. This year I will be preparing meals for a yet to be determined number of family and friends (quite a feat in my tiny only semi-functional kitchen with a mini stove that has not worked properly in 2 years and burners that seem to go on strike every few weeks). As this New Year approaches, I’ve been mulling over the significance and symbolism of food in our tradition. For much of our collective history, Jews were an agricultural people, maintaining the delicate balance of give and take with the earth. They nurtured the land that sustained them and directly reaped the benefits of their labor. Even if you yourself were not a farmer, you likely knew your neighbor who was. Nothing was taken for granted, the rainfall, the fertility of the soil, the well preserved seeds passed down from generation to generation, the livestock, the fruit trees, and the grain – it was all very real to the Jews who came together to celebrate their feast days. Simply put, food was holy.

Needless to say, today our relationship with food is very different. We are much farther removed from our food sources. Even when we try to support local agriculture, we are not dependent upon it. We are part of a thriving global economy that makes almost anything available to us at anytime (at a price of course). So if there is a hailstorm in northern New York, or Pennsylvania, or New Jersey, and crops are decimated – most New Yorkers would not even notice. We have been conditioned to associate food with hermetically sealed plastic packaging instead of the soil, plants, and aimals that are the true sources of our sustenance (which is why I believe that so many people who do eat meat are sqeemish about witnessing an animal being slaughtered ala hazon’s schitah debate - or even making the mental association that their “cutlet” in all of its skinless boneless glory was once a living breathing bird)

What I have decided to do this Rosh Hashanah is to focus on the local and seasonal bounty and blend in the traditional foods symbolic of the goodness, sweetness, and fruitfulness we hope to be blessed with in the year to come.

During the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah I will go to the farmers markets and my CSA and buy/pick up whatever is fresh, ripe, and available in abundance. I will let the local harvest inspire the menu, and then I will cook (and cook and cook some more). In addition to the local produce, I will also incorporate traditionally symbolic Rosh Hashanah foods. Some will be more foreign, reminders of Israel, such as dates & pomegranates (I know, carbon emission, food miles… but what is Rosh Hashanah without pomegranate?) and some more locally sourced Rosh Hashanah fare such as honey (from a small bee-friendly apiary), apples, carrots, and fish. These items will not simply sit on the table in small bowls or on a platter to be used as part of the holiday ritual, for the utterance of a”yehi ratzon” blessing, but rather I hope to also make them centerpieces of the meal.

Though we don’t eat meat in my home often, I have decided that I will make some pomegranate chicken this year. I have found a number of recipes, but none of them seem to be quite what I am looking for (however the recipes I found for traditional Persian pomegranate chicken – Korsh Fesenjan in a great Persian cookbook I have by Najmieh K. Batmanglij comes pretty close). I imagining my pomegranate chicken (and seitan for my wonderful vegetarian husband who should not be deprived of pomegranate goodness) with toasted pistachios (for the sheer alliterative joy of saying pomegranate pistachio?) caramelized onions, and maybe some fresh mint.

To the best of my knowledge such a recipe does not exist outside of my head. Usually I would wait until my pre-Rosh Hashanah cooking frenzy, improvise, and never write down a concrete recipe, but in the spirit of sharing (and because I promised Leah that I would post a pomegranate chicken recipe on The Jew & The Carrot) I am making up this recipe now and sharing it with you as I go along, so bear with me as you witness, well at least read about, my step by step recipe experimentation.

Step 1. Earlier today I went to whole foods where I found some organic pomegranate juice 32oz not from concentrate from Elite Natural – it’s under OU kosher supervision – it looks like its pretty good stuff, though I have not yet opened the bottle. OK I am opening the bottle, pouring some into a glass … mmm it smells good (dont you wish you had a scratch and sniff computer screen…) tasting it …yup its good stuff!!

You can also get pomegranate juice from concentrate which is OK, or you can buy pomegranate syrup (available at many middle eastern stores) and reconstitute it …. or better yet squeeze your own pomegranates (fun, but a bit messy and time consuming). For me, this preservative free pomegranate juice seems to be just the thing (wow, you would think they hired me as a paid spokesperson, but I assure you they did not).

Step 2. I bought one 2-pound tray of Wise Kosher Organic chicken thighs (4 gezunteh pieces) and one small 2.63-pound (to be percise) whole chicken. I want to experiment and see whether this recipe will work better with a whole chicken, or pieces.

Step 3. At 12:45 am, when I should be sound asleep, I am placing the whole chicken and thighs into a very large ziplock bag (I did not remove the skin, just trimmed any excess fat)

Step 4. 12:55 am, I just poured about 2/3 of the bottle of pomegranate juice over the chicken, threw in 2 cinnamon sticks for good measure, sealed the bag, and placed it into the refrigerator. I am planning on letting the chicken marinade in the fridge at least until tomorrow evening. If I remember, I will turn the bag in the morning before I leave to work to allow for the chicken to evenly marinade.

I will use the rest of the pomegranate juice to marinade the seitan, more about that later.

Read Part TWO – and the rest of the recipe…

As soon as I learn how to upload photos from our camera to the computer and from the computer to the blog I will share some pictures of the process (and hopefully the delicious end result) but until then here is a picture of a lovely pomegranate I found online at wikimedia.orgpommy.jpg

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3 Responses to “In Search of Meaning & the Perfect Pomegranate Chicken (& Seitan)”

  1. AviShalom Says:

    A wonderful cookbook called The Silk Road: A Vegetarian Journey has a great kibbeh recipe from Mosul that is based on pomegranates and walnuts and/or pistachios with bulgur.

    Same spirit as fesanjen.

  2. Stephani Satterfield Says:

    Thank you for your observations on Rosh Hashanah. I am teaching a course on the Days of Awe at my church as a way to expose non-Jews not only to Jewish religious beliefs but also to social practices as well. I would love to be able to reprint the first three paragraphs above for my students, so that they will have an understanding of some of the historical and cultural significance of Rosh Hashanah along with the Biblical significance.

    Thank you,

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