Fesenjoon | Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew

 

 

Edited on December 26, 2014 to add: This is the recipe that I used to make fesenjan for a New York Times Magazine article about Diverse Holiday Feasts From Five New York Families. I’m delighted to add that my fesenjan recipe then went on to make it on Sam Sifton’s Most Popular Recipes, 2014! Wowza! Akh joon, fesenjoon & thank you maman joon for passing on your wonderful recipe.

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 are regional variations on the classic fesenjoon recipe, with some that opt to use meatballs, ducks, quince, eggplants or even fish in lieu of chicken; and some recipes that use pistachios, almond, or hazelnuts instead of walnuts. In addition to the regional variations, the classic fesenjoon khoresh itself is subject to distinct touches from one home cook to the next when it comes to the list of ingredients, method of preparation, and the favored ratio of sweet to savory to tartness.

This recipe is how my esteemed mother has been making her khorosh ‘e fesenjon for almost forty years. In our family, we think it’s the bee’s knees, it moves some of us to do a happy dance, and nearly all of us request it for our birthday dinners.

(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
  • 2 cups pomegranate syrup*
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth (optional instead of water)
  • 1 medium onion (finely grated)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated butternut squash
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate arils (optional for decoration)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron
  • 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.) Then grind roasted walnuts in a food processor till you get a fine texture.

  1. Place walnuts, grated onion, and 2 cups of cold water in a Dutch oven and bring to a very gentle (yavash yavash) boil. Once gently boiling, adjust heat to low and cook (small bubbles) for 30 minutes – with the 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.” This dish is essentially one that needs be cooked slowly and watched over.)
  2. 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”) cinnamon, pomegranate juice and the saffron dissolved in water. Also add either a cup of cold water (or chicken broth) at this point. Taste and adjust flavor to your liking with sugar, salt and pomegranate syrup. (The ideal flavor is perfectly balanced one that is tangy but also a bit sweet and definitely not too tart.) Bring mixture to a rapid bubbling boil – lid ajar – then turn down heat to low and continue to cook (mixture bubbling gently) for 45-75 minutes (or longer) till the chicken is completely cooked; the stew’s color turns a dark brown; and a layer of oil forms on the surface. Make a final taste test and adjust flavors to your liking.
  3. When it’s time to serve, stir with a wooden spoon so that the delectable walnut oil is evenly absorbed in the khoresh. Garnish with pomegranate arils (Optional.)

* 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) till you get the layer of walnut-oil form on the surface and the color turns chocolate brown.

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!

Noosheh jaan!

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Comments (32)

  • apuginthekitchen 7 years ago Reply

    Wow, you use butternut squash in your fesenjoon, that sounds wonderful and the pictures make me want some. It has been a very long time since I have had this delicious dish. Thank you for posting a recipe, I couldn’t remember all the ingredients and I want to make it asap!

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    the butternut squash is theoretically optional but my mom says it somehow makes all the ingredients and flavors “settle” – if that makes sense. Do make it Suzanne!

  • leduesorelle 7 years ago Reply

    Imagining all of these ingredients mingling together is cause enough for the happy dance!

  • johnnysenough hepburn 7 years ago Reply

    Sounds absolutely amazing. Love everything about this. Especially all of that delicious walnut oil on top!

  • Fae's Twist & Tango 7 years ago Reply

    Very, very delicious post, Azita. Yum and fun read! 😀 Fae.

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    nooshe joonetoon! 😉

  • Anarya Andir 7 years ago Reply

    Man, this sounds delicious! Gotta try it out someday!

  • Anarya Andir 7 years ago Reply

    And definitely interesting to read that it’s faranghi in Farsi – in Hindi a foreigner is called ‘firangi’ (but that’s rather casual)

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    It’s casual in Farsi as well. A little bit more formal would be “khareji” – literally “from the kharej” that is the “outside”, and in formal speech one would say “beeganeh” … language is fascinating!!

    Anarya Andir 7 years ago

    Ha! Even more interesting. Begaane means ‘stranger’ in Hindi :P. Don’t think I can come up with a similar word for kharej.
    Well undoubtedly, whenever I watch Iranian cinema I come across similar words :D. Definitely cool 😀

    azita 7 years ago

    Agree, tracing similarity of words used in various languages is a bit of a thrill. You may enjoy this: we call tomatoes “gojeh faranghi” [gojeh being: plum] … and to delve in a bit more deeply, “faranghi” really means Western, while khareji could be anybody who’s a foreigner … I guess “khareji” is very close to “alien” in English. (less harsh than “alien” though.) … I now plan to queue up a Hindi film or two on Netflix!

  • rabirius 7 years ago Reply

    Sounds very delicious!

  • Nirvana 7 years ago Reply

    Yayyyy!!!! Cannot thank you enough for posting this 🙂

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    You are so more than welcome. I HOPE it works out for you. Do let me know! Ok?

  • petit4chocolatier 7 years ago Reply

    Azita, this is amazing! I love the addition of butternut squash and the process of the walnuts. Delicious and beautifully written 🙂

    I am on vacation/spring break this week from the college and will keep checking your blog for new recipes in between stuff!

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    Thank you! Have you ever had it? You really should if not. Truly. Ask Suzanne if you don’t believe me.

  • Darya 7 years ago Reply

    I absolutely ADORE Fesenjoon. Such a delicious, sophisticated, and yet simple enough dish. I make a very simplified and unauthentic version sometimes, but I really should take it a step further and make the real thing some day, and your stew is so nice and thick, it looks delicious!

    azita 7 years ago Reply

    Based on your enthused commentary, I take it you were properly introduced to fessenjoon! Darya, I’d really like to know how you make you inauthentic version. I really really would. p.s. have to share this link with you (a French animated production on Norooz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eNERyi2WNt4) think they did a great job

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  • The High Heel Gourmet 6 years ago Reply

    I love this dish! Thanks for posting.

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  • cookingupthecure 6 years ago Reply

    One of our favorites. I sneak eggplant in mine because I love the combination so much. shhhh! 🙂

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