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Pomegranates: Healthy Holiday Harbinger

In the last five years, pomegranate juice sales have soared because of its apparent health benefits. Experts point to the fruit's high antioxidant and vitamin content.

Now, more cooks are using the pomegranate and its tiny, pretty, ruby-like red seeds to add color and taste to various dishes. The pomegranate is very versatile: It can serve as both an ingredient and a garnish.

And its appearance in dishes is a sure sign the holidays are upon us.

On The Early Show Thursday, cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie shared some delicious pomegranate recipes with showed co-anchor Hannah Storm, at the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

Ritchie showed both sweet and savory ways to incorporate the seasonal fruit, as well as a sensational drink.

Many people are intimidated by pomegranates, because they're a bit difficult to peel. Ritchie's favorite method is to cut off the blossom end to expose the seeds, then cut the fruit into four pieces. Then, she pulls off a quarter and picks off the seeds underwater. The white pith that you don't want to eat floats to the top, and the seeds sink to the bottom. She discards the peel and membrane, then drains and preserves the seeds.

RECIPES

Arugula-Orange Salad with Pomegranate-White Wine Vinaigrette

Perfect for holiday entertaining, this salad features the traditional colors of Christmas. It also enables you to make good use of your fancy vinegars. Champagne vinegar, fruit-flavored vinegar or white wine vinegar will work with the sweet and tart taste of the pomegranate and oranges.

For the vinaigrette:
1 pomegranate
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 large navel oranges
3 bunches arugula, tough stems removed
1 small red onion, sliced crosswise into thin rings

To make the vinaigrette, carefully remove the skin from the pomegranate. Working over a sieve placed over a bowl to catch the juices, peel away the thick membrane from the pomegranate seeds and allow the loosened seeds to collect in the sieve. Measure 1/3 cup of the seeds and reserve for garnish. Press on the remaining seeds with the back of a spoon to release about 2 Tbs. juice. Discard the crushed seeds.

Add the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the pomegranate juice. Whisk until blended.

Using a small, sharp knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom of each orange to expose the flesh. Place each orange upright on a cutting board and thickly slice off the peel in strips, following the contour of the orange to expose the flesh. Holding the orange over a large bowl, cut along either side of each section, letting the section drop into the bowl. Add the arugula and red onion, separating the onion slices into rings. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, then toss to coat evenly.

Divide the salad among individual plates, distributing the orange sections evenly. Garnish with the reserved pomegranate seeds.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series: Holiday Celebrations," by Marie Simmons (Time-Life Books, 1998)

Poached Pear With Crème Anglais

Available from late autumn through early winter, pomegranates have fleshy seeds that provide a tart flavor, brilliant red color, and satisfying crunch. Since their season is short, it's a good idea to buy them ahead for holiday dishes; they'll keep for weeks in your refrigerator's crisper.

For the crème anglaise:
2 cups milk
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

8 to 10 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, 3 to 3 3/4 lb.
total weight, bottoms trimmed so they stand upright
6 cups bottled pomegranate juice
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
Julienned zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbs. Cointreau or other orange liqueur, mixed with 1 Tbs. cornstarch
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
12 fresh mint sprigs

To make the crème anglaise, rinse the inside of a nonaluminum saucepan with water and shake out the excess water. Pour in the milk and place over medium-low heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolk and granulated sugar and whisk just until blended. Gradually whisk in half of the hot milk, then pour the egg mixture into the pan. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, leaving a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and let cool. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Using an apple corer or a small, sharp knife, carefully core each pear from the bottom. Leaving the stems intact, peel the pears.

In a large nonaluminum stockpot over high heat, combine the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid simmers. Place the pears on their sides in the liquid and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully turn the pears over and cook until a small knife can be inserted easily into the bottom of a pear, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Remove the pears and stand them upright on individual plates. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Pour about 2 cups of the pan liquid into a small saucepan, set over medium-low heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Gradually whisk in the Cointreau mixture, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens to a glaze, about 10 minutes.

Pour a little glaze over each pear, then spoon some crème anglaise around each one. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and garnish with mint sprigs. Serve the remaining glaze alongside.

Serves 8 to 10.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma, Christmas Entertaining," by Georgeanne Brennan (Simon & Schuster, 2005 )(Simon & Schuster, like CBSNews.com, is part of the CBS Corporation.

Pomegranate Frost

Pomegranate and cranberry juices lend their crimson hue to this festive drink, making it perfect for the holiday season.

Ice cubes as needed
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1 1/2 cups cranberry juice
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 bottle (24 fl. oz.) sparkling water
8 fresh mint leaves, finely shredded

Fill a pitcher half full with ice. Add the pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, lemon juice, lime juice, 1 1/2 cups of the sparkling water and the mint and stir until well mixed.

Fill 6 tall glasses with ice. Pour the mixture into the glasses and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining," by Georgeanne Brennan (Oxmoor House, 2007)