Popular pomegranate a longtime Rosh Hashanah staple

Long before pomegranates became the darling of the cocktail and smoothie scenes, the ruby red fruit enjoyed near sacred status in Judaism.

One of the seven species of foods native to biblical Israel, the pomegranate long has been a key element of Rosh Hashanah.

So important were pomegranates in medieval Spanish Jewish culture that, according to Gil Marks, author of “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the once Jewish city Granada derives its name from the Arabic words for “Jewish pomegranate trees.”

The pomegranate even is mentioned several times in the Bible, and ornamental depictions of pomegranates, called “rimonim” in Hebrew, grace the tops of many Torah scrolls.

Part of the reason for the tradition is that pomegranates were long said to contain 613 seeds, the number of mitzvahs (or commandments) that Jews are supposed to observe.

Not surprisingly, seed count varies from fruit to fruit. Tom Tjerandsen of the Sonoma-based Pomegranate Council estimates the average is closer to 850.

Whatever the number, pomegranates are hugely popular. In 2009, there were more than 1,800 food and drink products that contained pomegranate seeds or juice, according to Tom Vierhile, a director at market research firm DataMonitor. In 2005, there were just 258.

Pomegranate season begins in September, coinciding with Rosh Hashanah. Many Jews serve pomegranates on the second night, when it is customary to eat a fruit not regularly consumed.

Here’s a healthy Rosh Hashanah pomegranate dish created by Motti Almakis, the chef of the Spa Club Dead Sea (a hotel in the Prima Hotels chain). — ap

Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

Makes 4 servings

1 cup quinoa

1⁄4 cup chopped celery

1⁄3 cup walnuts

pinch of salt

1 Tbs. olive oil

1⁄4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

1⁄4 cup dried cranberries

juice from half a lemon

chopped scallions

Cook the quinoa in water for 20 minutes on low flame. Then rinse with cold water and place in bowl. Add the celery, walnuts, salt and olive oil and mix slowly. Then add the pomegranate seeds, cranberries and lemon juice and mix slowly (do not use a wooden spoon). Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle scallions on top.