khoreshe-e-fesenjan: traditional persian walnut & pomegranate stew

pomegranate {انار} tree in napa valley, california

please don’t be discouraged by the image of this very (deservedly) popular and delicious traditional persian stew made from the most ingenious combination of ingredients: finely ground walnuts (superfood in its own right), pomegranates (well known antioxidant powerhouse), onions, and poultry (duck or chicken) simmered together to create the most magical and addictive combination of textures, flavors, and aromas that is khoresh-e-fesenjan { فسنجان }. the flavors of fesenjan are sweet and tangy (or rather, tart) with a satisfying nutty depth, and they intensify (and improve) over time, which is why the dish not only travels well, but is possibly better the day after (which also makes it a good one to make ahead)it is traditionally served with steamed basmati rice or chelow (follow this recipe, leaving out the spices), but can also be served with tah-chin (without the chicken & spices). one of the main ingredients for a good fesenjan is pomegranate molasses (or rob-e-anar) which is easily found (at least in southern california) in specialty middle eastern markets, as well as on line-if need be, you can substitute it with reduced (pure) pomegranate juice and a few spoonfuls of sugar. 
the pomegranate continues to be a rather mysterious and difficult-to-eat fruit for some, but it’s actually a nutrient-dense food packed with antioxidants originating in persia (modern day iran) where khoresh-e-fesenjan was also born many hundreds of years ago. although cooking this dish might seem like a daunting task at first sight, (in my humble opinion) it is by far one of the easiest persian stews to prepare, and well worth the efforti strongly urge you to try it…you will make your friends and family very very happy, over and over again! nooshe-jan :)  

ingredients for 6-8 (generous) servings, and some leftovers!

  • 1.5 to 2 pounds fresh shelled walnuts (finely ground in a food processor)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 cup (or slightly more-adjust to taste) pomegranate molasses~i use a combination of a sweeter and a more tart one: sadaf (more of this) & cortas (slighly less of this)
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 2-3 tbs cane sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 tbs vegetable (olive) oil
  • 8-10 pieces skinned organic chicken (thigh is best)

1. in a food processor with a steel blade grind up the walnuts (make sure they are fresh and not bitter or rancid) with one roughly chopped onion and enough water to help the processing. pour the mixture into a heavy pot or dutch oven, add about 2-3 cups of water (not too watery, and not too thick-like above), and allow it to come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer on medium/low~more like low (while stirring occasionally) for about 50 minutes to an hour.
2. while you wait, finely chop the other onion and brown in 1-2 tbs of oil in a shallow skillet. add the cleaned chicken, turmeric, ground pepper, and sea salt and brown on both sides, then add about 1/2 cup water and slow cook or braise (simmering on low) for at least an hour until tender. set aside.
3. start preparing your chelow (steamed basmati rice) at least an hour before serving-link to recipe above.

3. the color of the walnut mixture will slowly darken and intensify, and the oil will begin to separate (you want to see this). add sea salt (to taste) and the molasses and stir until fully incorporated.  taste and adjust for salt, add 2-3 tbs of sugar if it is too tart for you. allow the mixture to simmer on low for another 30-45 minutes and up to an hour (stirring occasionally so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pot).
4. add the fully cooked chicken to the mixture about 10-15 minutes prior to serving. the photo below reflects the color and texture you want to see when you are ready to serve.

 

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"kotlet" making {or how to make persian beef cutlets}

Persian Kotlet

how to make kotlets

the only reason i don’t make kotlet {persian meat patties} more often is because preparing these delicious treats can be quite a production, AND, because frying them makes the whole house smell like, well, …kotlet! which is a good and bad thing-growing up, it’s a smell i was happy to come home to because it told me one of my favorite dishes was on the menu-on the other hand, although the smell is super delicious and appetizing, i’d rather it not cling so lovingly to my living space long after the last of the kotlets have been consumed. there are a few solutions to this minor bump in the road towards enjoying these delicious treats-obviously, having a good strong hood {as in, good ventilation} is key-although i have a hard time with the (rather annoying) sound many hoods create (ouch). when i make kotlet, i begin at least an hour or two ahead (they are really good served just warm or at room temperature and can easily be re-heated), and i open all my windows while i cook. this seems to do the trick-now if you live in a colder climate, you might consider making this dish in the spring and summer months! for more about kotlet (making), and my love for it, you can go to my post on vegetarian quinoa-lentil cutlets-which have become one of the most popular recipes on this blog. this time the kotlets turned out more delicious than usual-probably because of my mom’s magical touch (she helped me). thanks, noni!

ingredients for about 15-20 kotlets (i like mine on the smaller side):
  • 1 pound ground beef (or lamb)-i use grass fed organic beef (with 7% fat at most)
  • 2 large russet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated or smashed (about equal parts meat & potatoes)
  • 2 large or 3 small organic eggs
  • 1-2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (ground)
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, grated (i processed mine in a small food processor/chopper)
  • 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely minced (optional-this is how we do it in my family)
  • 1/4 tsp saffron (ground or seeped in a tsp or two of warm water)
  • 1 cup good quality bread crumbs (natural, no added spices)
  • 1/2 (or so) cup oil for frying (lately i’ve been using safflower oil for frying)
  • tomato slices, mint leaves, and flat leaf parsley for garnish
kotlets with a side quinoa “taboule” with heirloom tomatoes, fresh parsley, & mint

1. in a large bowl combine the beef, potatoes (making sure they are cooled off), eggs, spices, minced parsley, & grated onion, then combine (preferably by hand) for about 5 minutes or so (mixing all the ingredients well) to create a paste.

2. shape the meat mixture in to small balls the size of an egg, then flatten them carefully into oval shaped patties. pour the bread crumbs onto a cutting board, then bread the patties on both sides, being careful to keep them in one piece.

3. heat the oil in a large skillet, and fry (brown) the meat patties (medium heat) on both sides. allow the patties to cook fully on one side before turning them to cook on the other. if they seem to be falling apart, you may need to adjust your potato amount (as in add more).

4. carefully remove the cooked kotlets from the skillet and place them on a platter with a few paper towels to drain the excess oil.

5. once all the kotlets are done, remove the paper towels and add sliced tomatoes and fresh herbs to the platter before serving. kotlets are often served with french fries and a salad or wrapped in flatbread with dill pickles, tomatoes, and parsley as a sandwich.

all gone…nothing like kotlet leftovers the next day-make plenty of them! for my vegetarian version of kotlet (see picture below) go to:  vegetarian quinoa-lentil cutlet recipe

 

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are you thirsty? drink this: {sharbat-e-sekanjebin}

over the week end i found myself (a spectator) at a water polo tournament in 100 degree (f) heat, and all i could think about was how much i was craving sharbat-e-sekanjebin, or vinegar{!!} syrup sherbet with grated cucumbers & mint. growing up in tehran, this refreshing drink was often served along with sour cherry sherbet on hot summer afternoons. i remember how much i liked watching it being prepared because of the lovely aroma the grated cucumbers and fresh mint created in the kitchen. when we had guests, tall glasses of these beautiful green and red (sour cherry) sherbets with crushed ice would be lined up on trays and served along with watermelon, dried fruits and nuts, and pastries. i liked watching people gently mix the syrups at the bottom of their glasses with long spoons as their drinks slowly changed colors. having lunch at a thai restaurant yesterday, i was served a delicate “salsa” made with cucumbers and red onions in a sweet & sour sauce reminiscent of sekanjebin. when i asked about the ingredients i was told it was made with white vinegar and sugar! these are the two main components of sekanjebin syrup- – – i decided it was time to make some…go ahead, try it for yourself-you won’t be disappointed!

for 1 cup of syrup {which is also often served as a dip for romaine lettuce}:
  • 3 cups sugar (i use unrefined cane sugar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint
1. in a saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil together and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sugar has fully dissolved.
2. add vinegar and boil  for about 20-25 minutes longer until you have a thick syrup.
3. add the mint sprigs to the syrup and allow them to seep while the syrup cools. remove the mint from the syrup when it is cooled and pour in to a glass jar with a tight lid or cork.
for sharbat-e-sekanjebin:
grated cucumbers and a chiffonade of mint
add to the syrup the following:
  • peeled & grated persian cucumbers (1/4 to 1/2 per glass)
  • a few thin slices of cucumber for garnish
  • 1/2 -1 tsp per glass freshly squeezed lime juice, plus a few thin slices for garnish
  • fresh mint leaves
  • crushed ice
combine 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts water or fizzy water {you can either mix ahead in a pitcher or use individual glasses and leave the syrup at the bottom of the glass to be mixed before drinking). i like my sherbet with plenty of grated cucumbers, so i add about 1/2 of a grated persian cucumber per glass. a small squeeze of lime juice adds that extra citrus freshness. this drink is always a refreshing reminder of how much i love summer-enjoy.
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a spring stew: rhubarb and fresh herbs with braised beef {khoresh-e-reevas}

yesterday while walking through our local farmer’s market full of wonderful spring bounty i started thinking about the spring seasons of my childhood. the seasons were such an integral part of our lives, mostly because whenever possible we spent time outdoors. after the last of the winter snow had melted, the garden would start to come alive again, and there would be blossoms on fruit trees and fresh sprouts and herbs coming up everywhere. one of our favorite things to do was run around the garden with friends-we pretend-played a lot, and often, i’d end up being the mom of the group, preparing (mostly inedible) meals for my “kids” from the leaves, fruits, and herbs we gathered (this often upset my grandma because we’d waste the not so ripe fruits and baby sprouts of herbs she was waiting for). i remember our excitement as we jumped over the waterways that ran through the garden, the sun gently warming our skin, the scent of sweet blossoms strong in the air, making ourselves “homes” to play in from firewood, fabric, cardboard, and anything else we could find. those were sweet days. i so miss those days. back then, time had a different meaning (we seemed to have an endless supply) and all we worried about was having fun. yesterday i wanted to make a dish reminiscent of the meals i used to prepare in the garden-they were mostly green, and as fresh as you can imagine! at the market, i picked up some beautiful pinkish rhubarb (amazing health benefits) along with bunches of organic parsley and mint. ahhhhh, the scent of it. it was going to be a first for me: a savory rhubarb stew that tasted, looked, and smelled just like spring.

for 4 portions {serve with steamed basmati (or brown basmati) rice}

  • 1 pound fresh rhubarb, cut in 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 large bunch (2 cups) organic parsley, washed, finely minced
  • 1 bunch (1 cup) organic mint leaves, finely minced
  • 1 large onion, peeled thinly sliced
  • 1 pound grass fed organic stewing beef (cut in cubes), or veal shanks (like for osso bucco)
  • 1-2 tbs sugar (to taste)
  • 2-3 tsp turmeric
  • vegetable oil (i use olive oil)
  • sea salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup good quality tomato sauce (or 2 tbs tomato paste dissolved in water)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1-2 tbs warm water (optional)

 

1. in a dutch oven cook the meat (click here for recipe with pictures): add 3 tbs oil, 1/2 of the onion thinly sliced, turmeric, sea salt and pepper. sautee until browned, about 5 minutes or so, then add about 2 cups of water, cover and cook on med/low heat for at least 1 hour-or more until very tender.
2. in a skillet, add 1tbs oil and fry mint & parsley with a touch of salt for about 10 minutes on medium/ low heat until all the moisture has evaporated.
3. in a small saucepan, fry the remaining onion slices in oil to make “piaz dagh“, set aside on paper towel to drain the extra oil.
4. preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). add the saffron and tomato sauce to the cooked beef, stir, and taste for seasoning (adjust if necessary). transfer the beef mixture (or add everything to the dutch oven) to a baking dish (casserole). add the rhubarb, fried herbs, and piaz dagh (fried onions). cover with aluminum foil (with a few holes poked) and bake for about 30-40 minutes (make sure the delicate rhubarb does not fall apart or dissolve).
5. taste the stew-if too sour, dissolve sugar in a few teaspoons of water, add and bake for a few more minutes-if you’d like it more sour, then add a few teaspoons of fresh lime juice.
6. serve hot with a side of chelow, or plain steamed basmati rice (leave out spices).
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