Pomegranates have several strikes against it from the get-go, namely, thick skin and a bitter, clingy membrane from which it is difficult to separate the juicy red, pulpy seeds. They're used in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and India but "have been largely ignored by the English-speaking world," food historian Alan Davidson wrote in 1999.
But just about the time he penned those words, certain American food producers started touting the pomegranate - juice, extract, powder and pills - as a putative cure-all for hypertension, heart disease and cancer.
Pomegranates are spectacular in salads, and bowls of yogurt or ice cream. Pomegranate syrup - a thick syrup sold in many supermarkets - is a cook's secret weapon. I have used it as an instant fix for bitterness in dishes as complex as Mexican mole and as prosaic as pot roast.
The dish here is from a lovely book called "Anjum's New Indian" (Wiley, 2010) by Anjum Anand, billed as "the Indian Nigella Lawson." This recipe, from northern India, calls for both powdered and fresh pomegranate seeds. If you can't find anardana, substitutes are given.
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 (21⁄2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
11⁄2 teaspoons salt
11⁄2 tablespoons ground coriander
11⁄2 tablespoons dried pomegranate powder (see Cook's note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
11⁄2 teaspoons garam masala (see Cook's note)
2⁄3 cup water
21⁄4 pounds chicken pieces, skin removed
2⁄3 cup water, plus more as needed
2 to 4 long hot green chilies, whole or split
large handful fresh cilantro leaves and stalks, chopped
handful of seeds from a fresh pomegranate
Cook's note: Dried pomegranate powder can be found in specialty shops and online at sources like www.ishopindian.com and www.indianblend.com. If you can't find it, substitute an equal amount of pomegranate molasses (available in many supermarkets) or the juice of half a lemon.
Garam masala is a spice blend sold in most supermarkets; if you can't find it, you can make your own: grind together four small bay leaves, seven black cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, one (3-inch) cinnamon stick and five cloves in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container for up to six months.
In a blender, combine all of the marinade ingredients, blending until pureed. Set aside.
Pierce the chicken pieces with the tines of a fork. Place in a non-reactive bowl or dish, and pour the marinade all over. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours, turning once or twice if you think about it. Bring back to room temperature before cooking.
Transfer the chicken and marinade to a large skillet, and add the 2⁄3 cup water and green chilies to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, covered, about 25 minutes. Give it the occasional stir, and make sure that there is always some water in the pan.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil.
Remove the cover from the skillet, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the excess water in the pan by cooking over high heat while tossing the chicken in the reducing gravy.
When completely reduced, add a good splash of the boiling water for a little gravy. Check for seasoning and tartness; you can add more dried pomegranate powder if needed. Stir in the fresh cilantro, garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds, serve.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
• Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.