We all have our favourite comfort foods, and I suppose mine is a little bit unusual-- but in a good way! Promise! This is a hand-me-down from my late grandmother who was known for her fabulous cooking in Iran. Fesenjoon is an ancient Persian stew with very forward-thinking elements. Its base is made from finely crushed walnuts, melded together with a rich pomegranate molasses. It's almost like a Persian version of a Mexican mole, if I'm to compare it to anything out there. Traditionally, we make it with duck, too. I've made this version with chicken. If you're vegetarian, skip the meat all together and it's still incredibly delicious. Serve it up on a bed of warm basmati rice. Fesenjoon is truly one-of-a-kind, and once you try it, the flavours will haunt you lovingly for life. Trust me. ;)
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
- 2 cups walnuts (light coloured walnuts are better as dark coloured walnuts are bitter)
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (bones included)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp Persian spice mix* or standard allspice
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses**
- 1 heaping tsp tomato paste
- pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
- cooked basmati rice for serving
*Persian spice mix (called "Advieh") is highly suggested in this recipe (in lieu of the allspice sub). Here's my recipe to make a little pot of it. Mix together:
- 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp ground turmeric
**Pomegranate molasses can be found in Middle Eastern shops or on Amazon. You can also make it yourself by cooking down the following ingredients in a pot for 70 to 80 minutes (stirring occasionally) until reduced to 1 cup:
- 4 cups pomegranate juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Step 2: Chopping Walnuts and Onions
Chop the walnuts as finely as possible, preferably in a food processor. Set aside.
Peel and finely chop the onion. You'll start by cooking this first.
Step 3: Frying the Onions
Add the tablespoon of oil to a pot over medium heat and fry the onions until lightly browned.
Step 4: Chicken
Remove all the skin and fat from the chicken pieces.
Add the chicken pieces, turmeric, spices, and salt to the pot of onions.
Step 5: Simmer It
Add enough water to cover everything in the pot, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook for at least 20 minutes, until chicken is tender.
Step 6: Making the Walnut Base
In a nonstick pan over medium-low heat, toast the walnuts for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Do not use any oil for this.
Add the pomegranate molasses and tomato paste to the walnuts, cook for a couple minutes while stirring.
Step 7: Bringing It Together
In a large pot, add the walnut mixture and JUST the broth you made from the chicken. (Don't add the chicken pieces yet.)
Bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer on low. Cover and cook for one hour.
Return the chicken pieces to the pot and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, covered. Do a taste test and see if needs any salt or sugar. It should be a pleasant balance of sweet, sour and savoury. Every pomegranate molasses is different and can offset the flavour a bit. Play around with it. :)
Step 8: Extra Tip for the Oil You Create Here
Because walnuts are high in oil content, you'll have created a nice layer of walnut oil you will find floating on top. You can spoon this oil out from the top and save it for other cooking purposes or my favourite: using it for salad dressings. YUM!
Step 9: Serve It Up
Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, if desired, and serve with basmati rice. I add a bit of saffron dissolved in water to the top layer of my cooked rice for a pretty presentation.