By Nigel Spence
As the Thanksgiving Holiday rolls around, with it comes a flurry of activity and excitement as families prepare to master the most important of all meals – the Thanksgiving Feast.
Supermarket shelves fully stacked with boxes of stuffing mix, instant sides, candied yams and more, will soon be stripped bare as the onslaught of customers fulfill the list of special ingredients needed for their secret family recipes. Checkout lines will get longer, while parking spaces get shorter. Traffic will be heavier and days will be shorter.
But despite the November chill in the air serving as a cold reminder of the Winter days ahead, it will be no match for the warmth of spirit radiating from friends and loved ones as they come together once again to partake of the lavish meal set before them.
Interestingly though, Thanksgiving is not the only tradition for which November is well known. It has, over the years, been dubbed the prestigious title of “National Pomegranate Month” a fact of which many are now becoming aware as more and more major health benefits to be derived are being published.
“Punga-Not” as it is commonly pronounced by many Jamaicans, did not strike among the favorites in our house when we were growing up. Most of us only ate it out of curiosity – it was hard to resist the many little bits of pink pulp that shone like crystals in the sunlight and the juice that flowed after chewing it. Little did we know how important it was to become in later life. Maybe if we had a clue then, we would have paid it more reverence instead of using the seeds as cash when we played “Shop” – Ha!
Among the pomegranates’ attributes is the reference to the name “divine fruit” and is alleged to have originated in the biblical Garden of Eden.
More recently, several studies have claimed that consumption of pomegranates could lower blood pressure as well as slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Another exciting discovery published by the National Academy of Sciences, Sept. 26, 2005 revealed the possibility of pomegranate compounds preventing prostate cancer or at least slowing its growth, while other research suggests the juice may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Did you know that almost all forms of the pomegranate are edible, including the flowers, bark, leaves and the peel? Plus the dried seeds can be found in many trail mixes. Apart from the natural juice, several foods are also now being prepared with a blend of pomegranate and other super fruits as a healthy alternative.
I must confess that I dutifully conducted a few brief unofficial studies of my own and found that if I mixed my pomegranate juice with a likkle “Uh Huh” I turned into an instant bi-linguist. At first I would start out chatting “sense” and somewhere down the road I found myself speaking perfect “nonsense”! For now my report is inconclusive but I suspect I will need a few more tests to be sure (LOL).
But that aside, here is a great suggestion, why not put a little spark in your Thanksgiving this year? Surprise your guests with a refreshing change to the usual eggnog. It also makes a great substitute for sorrel drink at Christmas. Well, let me take that back, it would go well NEXT to the sorrel drink, as no self respecting Jamaican would be caught dead without sorrel during the holidays. Not only would you be serving up a delicious, fruity concoction, but offering an additional healthy alternative to boot.
Let me introduce you to another master-mix from my collection, simply called “Serenade in Pink”. This one will have your guests yearning for an instant replay.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours – Enjoy!
SERENADE IN PINK
4oz Pomegranate juice
1 1/4 oz Peach vodka
1/2 oz Simple syrup (or sugar)
1 fresh Lime wedge
1 sprig of Mint
1 small slice of Ginger
Muddle lime wedge, ginger and mint together then add to shaker with remaining ingredients and ice. Shake well then strain into a rocks glass with lots of ice
P.S. Since the holidays are on our heels and braising of the Thanksgiving turkey leg seems to be the hottest recipe topic this year, I decided to let you in on a little secret. Since we are already on the subject of pomegranates, I will disclose an easy way to give you a one up on the masses with this delicious rendition of braising any meat. Whichever technique you use for braising or stewing (basically the same thing) remains the same except that you will be adding an amazing secret ingredient.
Instead of burnt sugar, molasses, browning or cassareep, which are the standard color and flavor additives of choice in most Caribbean braising or stew pots, you will substitute all of those with pomegranate molasses. This is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking so you can find it in most Middle Eastern grocery stores and gourmet shops. This condiment will reveal some amazing new color and flavor dimensions to your holiday dutchy pot. Of course a good scotch bonnet pepper is a standard requirement for any stew or braise Caribbean style.
BRAISED TURKEY LEGS
This recipe also gives you an opportunity to use up that pimento liqueur or dram that you have had gathering dust in your pantry or bar. It is totally optional but I find that it adds sweetness and balance to the dish.
4 Turkey legs, whole
10 oz Bella mushrooms, sliced
1large Vidalia onion, sliced
6 cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock
3 Tablespoons Tomato paste (or ketchup)
1 cup Red wine (can substitute white)
2 tablespoons Pimento Liqueur or dram (OPTIONAL) (can substitute sugar or nothing at all)
6 tablespoons Pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons Garlic, chopped coarsely
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
4 sprigs Thyme
1/4 cup Coconut oil
3 Tablespoons Water
3 large Potatoes, cut in 6 pieces
2 Carrots, cut in large pieces
2 Tablespoons Butter, cold but not hard
Salt and pepper to taste
Season turkey legs with salt and pepper. In a large braising pot over medium heat add oil. When hot, add turkey legs and brown on both sides.
Remove legs from pot and reserve.
Turn the heat to a low setting. Add onions and water to the pot and stir to remove the brown bits left stuck to the bottom of the pot (called the fond)
Continue to cook the onions slowly to caramelize until golden brown, then add mushrooms and garlic.
Adjust to medium heat and continue cooking about three minutes. Mushrooms will begin to release water. Add tomato paste or ketchup, then pomegranate molasses, then red wine, then pimento liqueur (or sugar) and continue to cook for 2 minutes more.
Add chicken stock, stir, then return the turkey legs to the pot and increase to high heat.
As soon as the pot gets to a simmer, turn the heat to low, cover and cook for approximately 2 hours, then add potatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and thyme. Continue cooking for an additional 30-45 minutes depending on the size of turkey legs, until they are fork tender but not falling off the bone. Remove turkey legs from the braising liquid, turn heat up to high and allow liquid to reduce and thicken for approximately 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Slowly add butter and stir to give the stew a beautiful glossy appearance and serve over turkey legs.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.