I think it is only logical for me to conclude the posts for “Pomegranate Week” with one of the most delicious and intriguing Persian dishes: Khoresht Fesenjan.
I can’t honestly say that my love affair with this stew began during my childhood in Iran. Nop. It sure didn’t. The sight of it turned me off. Let’s be honest here, it is not one of the most good looking of dishes and if you don’t know what is in it, it can totally turn a person off. Lucky me, the first time I tried it in my adulthood was made by one of my paternal aunts. I firmly believe that she makes it the best. Seriously, she’s got the magic touch. I have to also say that it is a good thing that she likes to make it on the sour side, because if it was on the sweet side, I would have not loved this stew as much as I do. The fact that my aunt makes the best version of this stew became pretty evident to me as I was trying to make it in order to post it here. I first cooked based on the directions by two different Persian cookbooks. The result was just OK. Then when talking to my mom she reminded me that she had written down the recipe during a conversation with my aunt. Sure enough the second time that I made the recipe it was a mighty success! This goes to show you that technique is an important part of cooking. Woohoo!
I have to also share with you this story about Fesenjan that I don’t I will ever forget for the rest of my life. This story always cracks me up. I was at a friend’s house and her mom had offered to make Fesenjan. She was kind enough to make a vegetarian version since this was during my two year Pesco-Vegetarian stint. During the same evening my friend’s downstairs neighbors were having a party. We joined the party for a little while. I so happened to start a conversation with a guy who turned out to be half Persian and half American. He introduced me to his wife and we ended up talking about Persian food. We told her what was being made upstairs and got talking about how some Persian dishes can be converted into vegetarian.
If memory serves me correct the following is give or take the conversation that too place. Clutching her sleeping baby in her arm, she said: “Well, you could make Fesenjan with fish,” pause “doesn’t that sound good?!”
All I could think was: WHAT? Fish? NOOOOOO! But I chose to be gracious, and simply answered: “Oh, I don’t think that would be a good combination.”
She didn’t give up, “No really, you could add tuna to it.”
Seriously woman, please stop saying such things. All went through my mind in that moment was the image of emptying a can of tuna into Fesenjan. “Oh no, that sounds really bad. Those flavors don’t even go together, yak!” There were some seriously horrified looks being exchanged between my friend and I as this whole conversation was taking place.
“What I mean is fresh tuna not out of a can. I think it would be good.”
It is during times like these that it is not even worth arguing; you just give up because it is not even worth it. Seriously, Fesenjan is usually made with chicken. If you want to get fancy, you can even make it with duck. I love tuna, I really do. I love it in a can and I love it even more fresh. Actually, I REALLY LOVE it fresh. But Fesenjan and fish = not a good combination. As far as I am concerned it is perfectly nutritional in the vegetarian form, sure the chicken does make it better, but it just fine without it too.
So my vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free friends this recipe is made in such way that you all can enjoy it too!
8 chicken thigh pieces
2 bay leaves
4 cups walnuts
1 tbsp flour*
1 cup pomegranate paste**
Here are our cast of characters: Walnuts and Pomegranate Paste. Pomegranate seeds are optional.
Toast the walnuts. Make sure they don’t burn. I am a firm believer in always toasting nuts.
Then place them on a baking sheet and let them cool down.
Once they have reached room temperature, grind them all up.
Vegetarian and Vegan folks please skip the next three steps. Proceed directly to the empty pot photo without collecting your $200 dollars!
Everyone else, please follow me.
Sauté onion until translucent.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add to onion and cook for a few minutes.
Turn chicken pieces after a few minutes. Add bay leaves and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.
Vegetarian and Vegan folks, please join the group again! Warm up another pot and place 1 tbsp of flour. Toast the flour slightly.
Add 2 cups of water and mix well until all lumps are gone.
Add ground walnuts.
Stir until water and walnuts are thoroughly mixed. Cook on low.
Make sure you stay on top of it during this process. As the mixture thickens, it can easily burn. This process might take a little while. Once you see a layer of oil forming on top of the walnuts the hard work is pretty much done. You can actually see the oil rise through the bubbles.
Add pomegranate paste and mix well. Season with salt.
Vegetarian and Vegan folks, this is it for you! Just let your Fesenjan cook for a few more minutes.
Everyone else, please add chicken pieces making sure that each piece is submerged in the stew. Cook for a few minutes longer so that the flavors incorporate and chicken warms through.
Ya see the that booboo above? That’s what happens if you get distracted and leave the stew alone for too long. I learned that lesson the first time!
Serve Khoresht Fesenjan over rice. Pomegranate seeds can be added for added flavor and a pretty presentation. If the stew is too sour, sugar may be added to sweeten it up a bit. Enjoy!
* Gluten-Free folks, please use GF Flour.
** Depending on which brand of Pomegranate Paste you use, the color of the stew may vary from a deep burgundy to brown. I have noticed that Sadaf’s Pomegranate paste is not dense, but slightly on the liquid side. Add a little more until the color adjusts to a deep burgundy. If the result is too tart, add more sugar.
Please click on the following links for other recipes featured in the “Pomegranate Week” 2009 edition: