Iran, part two: Fesenjan

It should be no surprise that I have a thing for pomegranates.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate

One of the first times I ever organized a dinner party, in a tiny apartment in the 17th where I cohabited with a then-boyfriend, I wanted to make something with pomegranates. This was in 2008, I thought I was so clever when I googled the ingredients I wanted to use in order to find a suitable recipe.

The recipe that I found and ended up making was from a Persian cookbook writer I hadn’t heard of yet, and was for a dish I had never tasted. Khoresh-e-fesenjan, or Pomegranate Khoresh.

The dish was delicious, however the sauce was a bit thin. I would forget about it over time, and years later while preparing for my trip to Iran, I would re-learn about fesenjan: the magical pomegranate and walnut stew.

In Kashan, the mother of one of our CouchSurfing hosts had just finished making her yearly batch of pomegranate molasses, from her husband’s pomegranate trees cultivated on a small farming plot outside the city. She sells most of it to neighbors, keeping a few jars for the family’s yearly consumption.

Upon learning about this, my jaw dropped to the bottom limit of my hijab. “Could I try some?” Of course. Her mother appeared with a dollop of thick burgundy substance on a plate with a coffee spoon.

Thick, homemade pomegranate molasses

Thick, homemade pomegranate molasses

Its taste is unlike anything else I’ve tried – it doesn’t have the same syrupy consistency as most of the Lebanese or Turkish pomegranate molasses I can find here in Paris, and it almost tastes as if it has vinegar added to it. (It doesn’t.) The secret is that she cooks the juice down for six hours, so the liquid evaporates and the natural sugars in the juice act as a thickening agent on the rest.

I sheepishly asked if, perhaps, there was enough leftover for me to purchase a kilo myself – and bring back home to Paris. Of course there was!

Pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses

Her mother was touched that a foreigner was so interested in her cooking, and we had an exciting conversation about recipes translated through patient Fatema. What follows is the word-by-word verbatim, noted down in my journal, about how to make a proper fesenjan.

Fatema’s Mom’s Fesenjan

Fesenjan with rice

Fesenjan with rice

For 2: half a chicken breast

Put the chicken in a pot with chopped onion and turmeric. Add a small amount of water (half a thumb) and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer until the chicken is cooked.

You need about one cup of ground walnuts for two people.

Walnuts can be toasted, or not.

Once the chicken is cooked (still soft) add the ground walnuts.

Cook for two hours over low heat (very low.) The water for the chicken should be enough (walnuts will release their oil.) Stir occasionally. [Note: Check every 10-15 minutes and stir, otherwise the nuts will stick to the bottom and burn.]

After 2 hours, add 3-4 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses. Sauce should have consistency of thin yogurt.

TIP: After making (and eating) my fesenjan, there was some leftover sauce, which I froze for another occasion. This weekend for lunch, I made fesenjan tacos with corn torillas, the sauce, and smoked duck breast. Delicious!

Rice and barberries

Rice and barberries

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