Sometimes I like to teeter on the edge of super-precious, frou-frou-looking preparations. But there’s always something that pulls me back. They’re all going to laugh at you!—I watched Carrie again recently (on Halloween, to be sure), and that crazy lil warning from Carrie’s mom is surprisingly fitting in many circumstances. Did you spill too much over social media? Put on something weird to wear? Or, did you garnish food unnecessarily and felt frivolous afterward? No, they may not pour a bucket of pig’s blood over your head like that ill-fated movie heroine, but paring back can sometimes spare you from disaster. And make things all the better, when your resources and reserve combine at full effect.
I really wanted a pomegranate. I could imagine purplish-pink pomegranate seeds peppering this whole dish like ruby baubles on a queen. But something pulled me back from dashing out to grab said exotic fruit while I roasted some homely Brussels sprouts for a Friendsgiving this past weekend. It was just too… much.
So I looked in my cupboard and found a bottle of mystery: pomegranate syrup (aka pomegranate molasses or simply pomegranate “sauce”) there instead. It’s essentially a reduction of pomegranate juice with some sugar, and it’s intense and thick like the words syrup or molasses would entail. Sweet, sticky, but also intensely tangy. You could skip this for balsamic vinegar for a similar (but much more liquid) effect; reduce it for that thickness next.
So I felt satisfied by this solvent. But I still wanted to see more color on this dish. So I looked to my left and found a stray orange, leftover from a salmon incident a few weeks past, and said, OK. Slick orange segments tossed in with crispy, roasted goodness was even better than a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, in my opinion.
And that intensely pomegranate-tasting syrup was way better than the fruits themselves here, too. Though it hardly needs another garnish (are you going to laugh at me?) I also went for some chopped nuts to sprinkle on top. Because they were to my right, in a stray canister leftover from some freak-craving snack one night.
The reasons for having these disparate ingredients involved many people and many cuisines, which I’ve touched on over the years and mostly left to themselves. There was pomegranate molasses all over Louisa Shafia‘s last book, which I enjoyed greatly and rejoiced in again when my aunt randomly gave me some pomegranate molasses to play with after having taken a Turkish cooking class. I recalled orange segments being served with salads by friends last New Year’s Eve—and in Southern Italian cuisines where it was drizzled copiously with good olive oil and scattered with crushed almonds or other nuts, and parsley.
I can’t remember all the incidents of each of these elements that I’ve enjoyed, but I sure have never seen roasted Brussels sprouts combined with pomegranate molasses, oranges and pistachios before.
And that is how memories, or lasting food combinations are formed. I will remember it now and perhaps take from this night/dish/incident going forward because it worked so well. And at the Friendsgiving last Sunday, nobody brought the same thing. Even more serendipitously, everyone at the gathering had brought something totally varied and uniquely prepared in their own. And no, they didn’t laugh at me. Carrie moments can wait.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Oranges, Pistachios and Pomegranate Syrup
(makes 4-6 side dish servings)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed at the stem and halved lengthwise (small ones can be kept intact after trimming)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup (or pomegranate molasses)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the halved Brussels sprouts with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spread halved sides-down in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 6-8 minutes or until the bottoms are just golden-brown. Remove from oven and let cool a few moments.
Meanwhile, trim the stem end of the orange with a thick, flat slice to remove all the surrounding white pith. Trim the opposite end in the same manner. Place down on a flat side on a cutting board and trim a thick, curved slice from top to bottom of the orange, to just reveal only the juicy segment without any pith. Rotate the orange to trim each side from top to bottom until the orange is fully peeled with no pith. Slice into a segment the closest to the inside of the segment as you can, and then slice into the closest of the opposite end of the segment as you can to release that segment. Rotate the orange and repeat to release each of its segments, without any pith, from the core. Set the segments aside.
Arrange the Brussels sprouts on a serving tray and scatter the orange segments across. Scatter the nuts atop the dish, and drizzle the pomegranate syrup all over. Serve immediately.
(for 4-6 side servings)
1 lb Brussels sprouts: $6.00
1 orange: $0.50
1/2 cup pistachios: $1.00
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup: $0.50
2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.50
Three brownie points: Why has everything been so damn good on the health factor rating and it’s not even post-holiday season yet? I guess that’s because we’ve been so blessed with great fall produce lately. Brussels sprouts, aka miniature cabbages, are incredibly dense little nuggets of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, and goodness knows what else. It’s actually best to not know just how healthy these fashionable nuggets are sometimes, so we can enjoy them somewhat surreptitiously.
Seven maple leaves: Oranges and pistachios do not grow around the East Coast (nor does olive oil or pomegranates). This dish is definitely taking a Mediterranean look at things—as so many modern dishes do—but choosing all plant-based ingredients helps you reconcile the imported extravagances with the relative low carbon footprint of their initial production, being all plant-based. And it certainly helps your dish taste better, too.