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Snappy side: Festive Pomegranate Salad sure to shine on holiday menu

Spinach and pear salad with pomegranate vinaigrette. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 3
Candied walnuts Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 3
Pomegranates with vinaigrette dressing. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service3 / 3

The holidays are fast approaching, and this pre-season lull is the perfect time to start planning your menus for the upcoming festivities. Pomegranates have just come into season, and their signature ruby-red color and bright, sweet-and-sour flavor make them an ideal ingredient for this time of year.

With origins in Iran and Northern India, this ancient fruit has become a culinary favorite throughout the Mediterranean, including Italy and France, where the arils (seeds) and juice are used in a variety of dishes.

In the past, we've featured this fruit with recipes that include Stuffed Turkey Breast with a luscious Pomegranate Butter Sauce (Nov. 14, 2012), and a colorful Pomegranate Salsa (Dec. 23, 2015) that will make any holiday spread sparkle.

This week's Festive Pomegranate Salad showcases the pomegranate both in the salad, which is sprinkled generously with pomegranate arils, and the dressing - a lovely, light vinaigrette made with pomegranate juice. Opening a pomegranate can be a messy ordeal, and Tony has a great trick for keeping the process neat and clean, which we've included below.

This salad can be served either tossed for family-style dining, or plated individually for a more elegant presentation. Fresh spinach works best for this salad, as the leaves are sturdy enough to support the ingredients, and their deep green color complements the balance of colors.

When plating individually, Tony recommends trimming the stems from each spinach leaf before gently tossing with the vinaigrette. Layer the leaves in a pile on each plate, and then artfully scatter the leaves with thin slices of pear, shaved parmesan cheese, candied walnuts (recipe featured Nov. 26, 2014) and pomegranate arils, and another drizzle of vinaigrette. The result is a wonderfully balanced salad in color, taste, texture and nutrition.

The pomegranate vinaigrette consists of pomegranate juice (store-bought is fine), one small shallot, garlic, red wine vinegar, seasoning and extra virgin olive oil. It is easy to make and can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for at least a week. This vinaigrette also works well with chicken, pork and fish dishes.

Vinaigrettes are an oil-based dressing, and there are two tips to keep in mind to ensure the best result. First, since the oil is also a flavor component, it's important to use a quality extra-virgin olive oil, which has superior flavor and texture compared to simple olive or vegetable oil. Second, the oil must be added to the vinaigrette in a slow, steady, stream while whisking vigorously until emulsified (fully incorporated).

Special note: Next week marks the fifth anniversary of this column, and we'd love to include you in our celebration with a chance to win a prize basket which includes a copy of our cookbook, Party on the Prairie, a bottle of our favorite Greek extra virgin olive oil, and some specialty treats.

To participate, simply send us an email to sarahnasello

• A food topic you'd like to see us feature in 2018

• A culinary question

• Your favorite recipe or story from our column

Entries must be submitted via email by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, and the winner will be announced in our Nov. 22 column.

Festive Pomegranate Salad

Serves: 4 to 6

Vinaigrette ingredients:

2/3 cup pomegranate juice

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

1 small shallot, finely minced

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk the pomegranate juice, vinegar, shallot and garlic together until well combined. Add the olive oil to the mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, until fully emulsified. Taste and add seasoning as desired. Use immediately or refrigerate in airtight container for at least a week. Shake vigorously to combine before using.

Salad ingredients:

1 bag fresh baby spinach leaves, stems removed (optional, for elegant presentation)

1 cup candied walnuts

2 pears, thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick

½ cup fresh pomegranate arils

½ cup to 1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl and toss gently with ¼ cup of the vinaigrette until evenly coated. Arrange the sliced pear, candied walnuts, shaved parmesan cheese and pomegranate arils around the top of the salad and drizzle with ¼ cup of vinaigrette, or serve dressing on the side for individual application.

Sarah's Tips:

• Vinaigrette may be prepared in advance and refrigerated for at least one week.

• The pomegranate vinaigrette is also excellent with chicken, pork and fish dishes.

How to easily (and cleanly) open a pomegranate:

1. Fill a large bowl with cold water about 2/3 full.

2. Use a sharp knife to cut off the pomegranate's crown, and then score the outside into sections from top to bottom.

3. Place the pomegranate over the bowl and use your hands to separate the sections into the water and loosen the arils from the white pulp. The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the rest of the fruit will float to the top. Discard everything but the arils, and then strain the water. The succulent, ruby red arils will be ready for you to eat and enjoy.

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