This past week I attended SF Chefs 2011, a celebration of the foods of the San Francisco Bay Area and those who create it. Union Square was transformed into an upscale food court with the best food and drink imaginable. Amid the lavish and rich samples there was a bastion of tranquility. Tucked off to the side was an alcove dedicated to creations made with pomegranate juice. From cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages to soups and salads, everything was a beautiful deep ruby red, even the walls.
People were lounging on sofas set around the room and there was a sense of calm missing in the main tent. Everyone was more relaxed, it was much quieter and you could carry on a conversation easily. You could briefly escape the crowds; no one was pushing past you and stepping on your toes. It was a delightful breather in an otherwise sensory overloading experience.
Sponsored by POM Wonderful, I was amazed at the scope of offerings they had, each containing pomegranate juice. Two of the more creative ones that I enjoyed were watermelon gazpacho and snow cones. Both were light and refreshing, ideal for summer parties or barbecues. When I tasted them I immediately thought they would be perfect to share with you. I know you’re going to love them!
Gazpacho is a Spanish savory soup served chilled. Traditionally made with tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fresh vegetables, it is always a winner on hot summer nights. This version takes advantage of the exquisite watermelon showing up at the markets this time of year. Make sure you buy a seedless variety so you don’t have the hassle of hunting for and removing the seeds.
The pomegranate juice and vinegar offset the natural sweetness of the watermelon and cucumber, and the bell peppers, onions and basil add savory notes. I love to serve this as an amuse-bouche, a precursor to your appetizers, so-called because it tickles your taste buds preparing your palate for the rest of the meal. If you have shot glasses or any small cups, you can place on a serving tray and keep them in the refrigerator until just before serving. Place the soup in a pitcher with a spout for easy pouring.
Adding the grilled shrimp and bell pepper as an embellishment is sheer genius. They add a lovely smoky characteristic that complements the smooth fruits. I wish I could take credit for that idea, but the chefs tasked with creating the recipe obviously knows what goes well together. Garnish each glass with the shrimp and bell pepper just before you pass these around to your guests.
If you thought snow cones were just a sticky sweet concoctions for kids, think again. Yes, you can have slightly savory snow cones. I loved both of these, but the combination of lemon, chili and basil was incredible. Slightly sweet, slightly savory with just a hint of heat in the background. I wanted to stay at the booth, having one after the other. Too bad my mother raised me to be more polite than that.
You can use a heavy-duty blender to crush the ice or call your local rental company. Most have snow cone or shave ice machines available. If you are going to have children at your party, make sure you also buy some regular snow cone syrups for them. If you are using a blender with multiple settings, use the one marked “frappe” if available. Place 2 cups cold water and 2 cups ice cubes in the blender and process until ice is consistently crushed and slushy. The water will help the ice break down faster and your blender won’t have to work as hard. I wish I had known this trick when I was making batch after batch of daiquiris and margaritas in college … I wouldn’t have burned out so many blender motors!
If you are serving these outside, plastic containers are the way to go. But if your party is indoors, use clear glass to show off the stunning color. Martini or margarita glasses would be elegant and fun. These would be fantastic as a palate cleanser between courses or as a cooling non-alcoholic cocktail. If you want an adult version, feel free to add a splash of vodka to the mix. Either way you are going to get raves and kudos for your ingenuity and creativity when you serve these.
In addition to being delicious, pomegranate juice has recently shown to be incredibly good for us. There are many significant potential health benefits from drinking pomegranate juice including fighting breast and lung cancer, slowing the growth of prostate cancer, prevention of osteoarthritis, keeping arteries clear of plaque, lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure, deterring the build up of dental plaque on your teeth and slowing the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Geez, who knew eating soup and having a cocktail or dessert could be so wholesome.
Serving either or both of these at your next party is a terrific way of showing how much you care for your friends. You can tell them that not only are you a great cook, but you have been considering a career in alternative medicine, LOL.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When working with any fresh fruit, even huge watermelons, always wash them well with cold running water and a fruit and vegetable wash such as Fit. This removes any harmful bacteria. If you cut into a melon without washing it first, anything on the outside is transferred to the internal fruit. When working with large fruits, the longer the knife the better. It is simpler to use and will give you the cleanest slices. If you don’t have a large knife, insert your knife in the melon and work your way around, using a sawing motion as you rotate the fruit.
- 3 cups POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
- 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1/2 oz red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1/2 oz red onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
- 6 cups cubed watermelon, seedless or seeds removed
- Dash cayenne pepper, if you want a hint of heat, optional
- 8 gulf prawns, seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled and chilled
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, lightly grilled and finely diced
- In a large bowl, combine all the soup ingredients. Let sit overnight tossing every few hours allowing the vinegar to start pickling the mixture. Puree in a blender.
- Divide soup into 8 bowls and garnish with the prawns and yellow bell peppers. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- POM Lemon Chili Basil Syrup
- 2 dried red chilies
- 4 basil leaves
- 6 oz POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
- 2 oz lemon juice
- 1 oz sherry vinegar
- POM Apricot Peppercorn Syrup
- 9 whole pink peppercorns
- 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
- 5 oz POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
- 3 oz apricot juice
- 1 oz orange juice
- For the Lemon Chili Basil Syrup: In a deep narrow bowl, use a pestle or muddler (a bartender’s tool that looks like a miniature baseball bat) to smash the chilies and basil together, releasing their flavorful oils. This is called muddling. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well and strain over crushed ice, discarding the solids.
- For the Apricot Peppercorn Syrup: In a deep narrow bowl, use a pestle or muddler (a bartender’s tool that looks like a miniature baseball bat) to crush the peppercorns with the flat leaf parsley. Add the juices, mix well and strain over crushed ice, discarding the solids.
- Yield: 4 servings of each flavor