Jewels of winter: Pomegranates, pears and figs

Oct 1, 2008 at 10:02 p.m. ET

Planning a romantic dinner for two? Give your menu a burst of elegance by dressing up your dishes with these winter jewels: pomegranates, pears and figs. Not only do they add a luscious sweetness to everyday meals, they also have a history of being beneficial to love!

PomegranatesPomegranates are known in many cultures as a symbol of fertility. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Homer have all extolled the virtues of pomegranates in literature, and some hold that the pomegranate (not the apple!) was actually the fruit of temptation discovered by Adam and Eve. With their bright red color, pomegranates radiate romance, and have also gained popularity because their antioxidant levels are three times greater than those of red wine and green tea.

Blackened Shrimp with Pomegranate and Orange Salad

Use caution when removing the seeds from a pomegranate, as the juice can stain. Cut the fruit into quarters, and pull open in the sink, under running water to prevent splashes. Bend the quarters open to release the seeds. Pom Wonderful makes a delicious pomegranate juice that can be used for the vinaigrette.

2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups watercress, cleaned and stemmed
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 pomegranate)
1/2 cup diced orange sections (about 1 orange)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Whisk all ingredients for vinaigrette in a small bowl and refrigerate until use. (Or place in a lidded container with a jar and shake to emulsify.)

2. Combine all ingredients for salad.

3. Combine the spices for the shrimp in a large zipper-lock plastic bag. Add shrimp to the bag, seal and shake. Remove shrimp from the bag.

4. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp when oil is hot and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until shrimp is done. Toss the salad with vinaigrette, divide onto two plates, top each with six shrimp and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Per serving: 317 calories; 23g fat ; 14g protein; 17g carbohydrate; 4g fiber; 55mg cholesterol; 638mg sodium

Pears' erotic reputation comes from their feminine shape and mouth-watering texture. This winter gem is truly sensual when shared with a loved one.


Poached Pears in Cardamom Wine Sauce

1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 large Bosc or Anjou pears, firm, peeled with stems intact

In a covered saucepan, deep enough to hold a pear upright, combine wine, honey, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Place pears upright in pot; simmer on low heat for 30 minutes or until pears yield to the pressure of a fork. Serve immediately, spooning additional wine sauce over pear. Serves 2.

Per serving (with Bosc pears): 223 calories; 1g fat; 1g protein; 38g carbohydrate; 6g fiber; 0mg cholesterol; 8mg sodium

Figs, with their sweet, fleshy fruit, were said to be Cleopatra's favorite fruit. For the ancient Greeks the fig was one of the sacred foods associated with fertility and love. It has been rumored that in some Southern European countries wedding guests throw figs, instead of rice, at newlyweds to enhance their fertility.


Fragrant Lamb and Fig Stew

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound lamb tenderloin, trimmed and cubed
1 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup red wine
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch saffron thread, crushed
1 pinch ground red pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1 14-ounce can low-sodium beef broth
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup dried figs, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

2. Add lamb, and saut until browned, about 8 minutes. Add onion and garlic to pan; cook until onions and garlic are soft, and add wine, scraping the pan to release any browned bits. Add cumin, cardamom, ginger, saffron, red pepper and cinnamon stick, and stir to incorporate.

3. Add 3/4 of the can of broth and bring to a boil. Stir in 3/4 of the can garbanzo beans and figs. In a blender, add the remaining beef broth and garbanzo beans, and blend until pureed. Add to stew, stir and reduce to a simmer. Cover pan and cook for 35 minutes. Stir in mint, cilantro and salt, and serve. Serves 2 with leftovers (about 4 servings total).

Per serving: 780 calories; 27g fat; 41g protein; 88g carbohydrate; 23g fiber; 63mg cholesterol; 402mg sodium