Fesenjoon | Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew
There is a popular khoresh made with ground walnuts & pomegranate syrup, called Khoresh ‘eh fesenjan — but you can call it fesenjoon when you are on a more khodemooni (that is “intimate”) footing. Fesenjoon is just too delicious for its own good: tangy, sweet, yummy; and the texture is heaven, soft but granular and thick. Not surprisingly, it is among the top tier of special foods coveted and served for Norooz — the Persian New Year, which is just around the corner.
It would be hard to find an Irooni (colloquial for Iranian in Farsi) who does not like Fesenjoon. Most likely, a typical reaction would be: “Fesenjoon? Ākh joon!” (Or: Woot! As we say in English.) And if you are a faranghi (that is, a non-Persian) odds are great that once you are properly introduced to fesenjoon, you’ll start pining for your next quality-time together.
If there’s any justice in the world, your khoresh ‘eh fesenjan should be served over a perfect bed of fluffy rice imbued with the fragrance of saffron. Should you be so lucky, inhale deeply, and eat a hearty serving, and take care to form just the correct proportion of rice and khoresh in every spoonful. Since you can’t very well bring measuring devices and rulers with you to the dining table, just eyeball it to gauge the optimum proportions. Don’t worry. Practice makes perfect.
Now, there exist delicious variations (regional and otherwise) on the classic fesenjoon — with meatballs, or duck, or even quince in lieu of chicken; and pistachio or almonds or hazelnuts in walnuts’ stead; and one can even go certifiably nuts and opt to make a yogurt or carrot or eggplant or fish (yes, fish!) fesenjoon. The classic version itself, even, is made with distinct touches and techniques depending on the cook.
The recipe given here is how my esteemed mother makes her fesenjoon. We think it’s the bee’s knees, it moves some of us to do a happy dance, and some of us request it as a special birthday gift. Should that sway you to study the recipe.
(Note: Every recipe for this blog is made from scratch and shot from every angle until it begs for mercy. Logistically, however, it was not possible to make fesenjoon in time for publishing this post. Please, then, accept these candid action-shots of fesenjoon, captured in its natural habitat – during a family dinner at last Norooz. Recycling is good for the environment in any event.)
But anyhow. Less words. More fesenjoon.
- 2 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken breasts and thighs (6-8 pieces , more or less depending on the number served)
- 1 pound (or 4 cups) walnut (ground very fine)
- 2 cups pomegranate syrup*
- 1 – 2 cups chicken broth (optional)
- 1 medium onion (finely grated)
- 1/2 cup finely grated butternut squash
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (dissolved in 2 tablespoon hot water)
- 1 Tablespoon or more sugar (amount depends on personal taste to balance the tangy flavor)
- Sauté chicken pieces in olive oil until lightly golden.
- Make saffron water by dissolving ground saffron in 2 tablespoon of hot water.
- Finely grate the butternut squash.
- Finely grate the onion. (Till it is almost the texture of onion water.)
- Roast walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. Once cool to touch, rub walnut pieces between palms to shed excess skin. (This step also removes the raw taste of walnuts, rendering them appreciably more tasty.)
- Grind roasted walnuts, very fine, in a food processor.
- Transfer walnuts to a Dutch oven. Add the grated onion, plus 2 cups of cold water. (Later on, you can add a little more water if the stew’s texture is too thick.) Very gradually (yavash yavash) bring to a very gentle boil. Once gently boiling, adjust heat to low and cook on low heat for 20 minutes – lid ajar. During this time, stir frequently with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom, to prevent walnuts from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pot. (As my mother puts it: “This is a critical stage, so don’t goof.” You have been warned.) This dish is essentially one that should be cooked slowly and watched over.
- Add pomegranate syrup, sautéed chicken, grated butternut squash (which according to my mom “seals the ingredients, bringing it all together and just really helps the texture”) and the cinnamon and saffron water. If you feel the khoresh needs more water, add a cup of cold water or some chicken broth at this point, also taste and adjust flavor to your liking with sugar, salt and more pomegranate syrup if you like. (The ideal flavor is a perfectly balanced one that is tangy but also a bit sweet and definitely not too tart.) Bring it to a gentle boil – lid ajar – and continue to boil very gently for 35 -40 minutes till chicken is completely cooked and a 1/2″ or thicker layer of oil forms on the surface. Walnut oil is a sign of a successful khoresh.
- Make a final taste test and adjust flavors to your liking. When it’s time to serve, stir with a wooden spoon so that the delectable walnut oil is evenly absorbed in the khoresh. Serve hot.
* For a homemade pomegranate-syrup recipe & recommendations re store-bought brands, please refer to this post.
- If the khoresh is too thick, add water, bring to a gentle boil, and gently boil away, uncovered, till reduced to the desirable consistency.
- If the khoresh is too thin in texture, bring to a rapid boil without a lid, then continue to cook on very low heat (bubbling gently – yavash yavash) till you get the layer of walnut-oil form on the surface.
Pour into a big serving bowl and serve hot. A ladle or two of khoresh served over a bed of perfect fluffy rice. Make sure you savor every single bite. For truly, blessed you are!