Long before pomegranates became known as a healthy super food--linked to everything from improving cardiovascular health, to preventing cancer, to abating erectile dysfunction--they were a mainstay of Jewish cuisine.
Included in Deuteronomy 8:8 as one of the seven species of Israel (along with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, and dates) and mythologized to contain 613 seeds in every fruit, pomegranates are, without doubt, one of Jewish tradition's most sacred and celebrated foods. As a symbol of fertility and love, the pomegranate shows up multiple times in the Jewish canon's most famous love poem, The Song of Songs. For example (4:3): "Your lips are like a crimson thread; your mouth is lovely. Your brow behind your veil [gleams] like a pomegranate split open." Not surprisingly, the red, spherical fruit also regularly shows up as an artistic theme on ketubot, challah covers, and other marriage and family-focused Judaica.
Pomegranates' peak season generally falls somewhere around the High Holidays, which makes them the perfect accompaniment to the harvest holiday of Sukkot. They can be hung in a sukkah as decoration, and their seeds can be incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes--everything from pomegranate-glazed chicken to salads speckled with lush, bright red seeds.
In that spirit, here is a pomegranate-inspired dessert recipe, which livens up a traditional Mandelbrot batter with a splash of pomegranate juice. The juice imparts a beautiful blush and an extra hint of tartness to each delicious cookie.
Mix together oil, pomegranate juice, honey, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Mix in eggs and orange zest, if using. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt to combine. Fold in chocolate chips and crystallized ginger. Batter should be quite thick.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into two side-by-side rows on the sheet, each approximately 8 inches long by 4 inches wide. Brush the top of each row with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.
Bake until top of dough is firm and dry, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce heat to 300. Slice into 3/4 inch thick pieces, and rearrange on the baking sheet so the pieces do not touch one another.
Replace the baking sheet in the oven for another 20-30 minutes to dry the cookies, turning once after 10-15 minutes.
*Instead of, or in addition to, chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, try these alternate fillings (mix-and-match): dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried pineapple, walnuts, sliced almonds, etc.
Leah Koenig is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Gastronomica, Jewish Living, Lilith, Culinate, Beliefnet and other publications.