When John and I went to visit family in San Diego a few months ago, John’s aunt Nadia was shocked to hear we had never had Persian food. Growing up in the Middle East it was all she knew in her younger years and still loves it today. So for our remaining few hours in California before jetting back to the Midwest, Nadia treated us to a traditional Persian meal that left quite the impression on me.
Fesenjan (prounced fesenjoon). This dish a must. If not for Thanksgiving then today, tomorrow or the next. The combinations of ingredients is pure genius; and its the flavors, textures and complexity are absolutely stunning. One bite in and I knew I had to try this at home.
After Nadia treated us to an appetizer of Creamy Eggplant Dip (bademjoon) and pita that blew my mind, this was the one-two punch to totally knock my taste buds off their tiny taste bud feet. This dish all starts with walnuts and pomegranates. Hello superfoods much?
First, walnuts are toasted and finely ground while simmering down pomegranate juice into a reduction, also known as pomegranate molasses (or you can just buy the stuff). In the meantime, onion and chicken are browning to create a hearty, flavorful base. Vegetarians can simply omit the chicken or sub in more whole toasted walnuts or even chickpeas. It really is versatile in that way since the sauce is really where it’s at.
While the rest of your ingredients are simmering along, chop up some parsley and de-seed a pomegranate. A quick 15 minutes of simmering and it’s all ready. Serve over rice or with naan with pomegranate arils and parsley and go straight to Persian food heaven.
This dish is my absolute new favorite. It’s a no brainer.
Soft, fluffy rice
Tender, flavorful chicken
A lucious pomegranate-walnut stew-like sauce
Topped with pomegranate arils & fresh parsley
This dish will knock you off your feet it’s so good. I shared it with friends last week and they agreed, adding “incredible” “mmmmm” and “sooooo goood.”
Though this recipe takes more than an hour to prepare, the stew itself requires just 10 ingredients (including spices you likely have on hand) and is very simple to throw together. You could also shave off a little more time by roasting your walnuts and de-seeding your pomegranate ahead of time.
I vote you make this for Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, Christmas, New Years and everything in between. The flavors and the textures just don’t stop.
The recipe below is for a somewhat small batch, feeding 3-4. But double or triple it for a crowd. No one will complain about more food and the leftovers are nothing to whine about. Here’s to exploring new cultures, crazy new foods and exciting new traditions. Cheers!
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (or 1 8-oz. bottle pom juice)
- 1.5 cups walnut halves
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1.5-inch cubes*
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock*
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- pinch each cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper
- Optional: 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice (I used jasmine) for serving
- Optional: 1 cup pomegranate arils and fresh parsley for garnish
- If you don't have pomegranate molasses, make your own by pouring pomegranate juice into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, add a pinch of salt and a little lime juice and simmer for 45 minutes until reduced. Set aside to cool. You will have leftovers.
- Next, toast walnuts in a shallow pan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Once cooled, transfer to a food processor or blender and blend into a fine meal. Set aside.
- Next, if you're serving with rice, start by rinsing 1 cup rice in a fine mesh strainer. Bring 2 cups water to a boil, add rice and a pinch of salt. Cover and turn to low. White rice should take 18-25 minutes; brown rice 30-40. Don't open lid until it's done. Fluff and set aside, covered.
- Heat a large pot over medium heat. Once hot add 1 Tbsp olive oil and onions. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
- In a separate pan over medium heat, cook the chicken in two batches in a bit of olive oil. Once browned, add it directly to the pot with the onions. Salt chicken while browning.
- Once all the chicken is in the pot, add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and add pomegranate molasses, honey, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and walnuts. Simmer for 15-25 minutes or more, until desired thickness is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Serve over rice or with naan. Garnish with pomegranate arils and parsley. Store leftovers covered in the fridge. Should keep for several days.
*Pomegranate molasses method from Javaneh's Kitchen.
*Fesenjan adapted from Simply Recipes.
*Rice cooking method from The Kitchn.
*Keep this recipe vegetarian-friendly by subbing veggie stock for chicken stock and chickpeas or additional whole, roasted walnuts for the chicken. Keep it vegan by subbing agave nectar or maple syrup for honey.
*For a lighter version of this meal, sub cauliflower rice for regular rice.