Of all the wonderful recipes in The Saffron Tales, perhaps the most magical is fesenjoon, an alchemical dish that combines walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and chicken into something that tastes, wonderfully, quite unlike anything else. Fesenjoon manages to be, perplexingly, both vibrant and light as well as deep and mysterious. As Khan mentions in her interview with Tiffin, you really want to make sure to use the best walnuts and pomegranate molasses you can find. Many varieties of pomegranate molasses on sale in American specialty stores contain sugar or fructose. Make sure to seek out brands that have nothing other than pomegranate on the list of ingredients. (Both Sahadi's and Kalustyan's in NYC carry varieties of pomegranate molasses without any added sugar.) Good pomegranate molasses should be tart, viscous, and taste indelibly of rich, ruby-red pomegranates. Make this for a special occasion, or for any cold fall day when you have a little time to spare—there’s nothing lovelier than having a big pot of this delectable dish perking away on your stove when the leaves are falling outside and the wind is howling.—Rohan.
This rich and incredibly moreish stew has just three key ingredients, which come together to create a truly sumptuous dish. Fesenjoon is one of the shahs of Persian cuisine and a dish that is often made for special occasions such as weddings. Don’t be put off by the time it needs on the hob. It couldn’t be simpler to make, and once everything is cooking you won’t need to do anything other than let it bubble gently in the background.
The longer you leave the walnuts to cook, the more flavoursome the final stew will be, so feel free to let it simmer away before you add the chicken. Be sure to use fresh walnuts, as old ones can make the dish taste bitter.
Serve with white rice and some crunchy radishes on the side. In place of chicken, you could use duck or butternut squash. I often make a delicious vegetarian version with eggplants, which I’ve included opposite.
2 ½ cups walnuts (the fresher the better)
5 cups cold water
6 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp tomato purée
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
¼ tsp golpar (optional)
1 ¾ chicken thighs, bone-in, skinless
A handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish
In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they are extremely fine and have the consistency of a smooth paste. Place the ground nuts in a large casserole pot with 4 cups of water and mix well. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, stirring occasionally to stop the walnuts sticking.
Add the remaining cup of water, give the sauce a good stir, then stick the lid back on and leave to simmer for another hour. If the sauce starts looking dry, add some more cold water. You are aiming for a thick, porridge-like consistency.
The sauce should now have thickened and darkened in color. Add the pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper and golpar (if you have some) and stir well. Add the chicken pieces, place the lid on the pot and continue to cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is a glossy, dark chocolate color.
Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust to your preference: to make it a bit sweeter add more sugar, or pomegranate molasses to make it sourer. Cook for a final 10 minutes with the lid off so the sauce thickens around the meat. Sprinkle with a handful of pomegranate seeds before serving.
Follow the recipe above, substituting the chicken with thick slices of grilled eggplant. While the walnut sauce is cooking, take two eggplants and slice them lengthways in half and then into quarters. Brush the slices with a little olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.
Heat the grill to medium. Place the eggplants under the grill for about
10 minutes, turning once until they are cooked on both sides. Gently add the eggplants to the stew just before serving to warm them up. Take care not to mix them too much when they are in the pot, as they will disintegrate.