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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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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kookoo {vegetarian herb omelette or frittata}

kookoo

we’ve been enjoying kookoo (i know, bit of a funny name) or the persian version of  a frittata-omelette-quiche in my family ever since I can remember. when i say we, i have to admit that for years I only observed it being made (there are all kinds of variations of kookoo) and eaten by others. starting off in life as a bit of a picky eater, i eventually learned to appreciate a good kookoo (among other things) as i discovered what (real  food) eating was all about. i can still see my grandma’s skillful hands meticulously chopping the herbs, then ever so care carefully pouring the green “batter” in to the pan. herb (green) kookoo is best in the spring when all the fresh herbs it calls for are in  abundance. as i prepare my shopping list for our upcoming (persian) new year’s celebration (no rouz -spring equinox), it becomes clear that herb kookoo contains a  perfectly healthy and good for you combination of ingredients-a rarity for such deliciousness! it is a great vegetarian option, and can be served warm as a side (such as during no rouz where it is served alongside the traditional herbed rice & fish dish, sabzi polo mahi), or as an appetizer (at room temperature) served with yogurt and flat bread. i left this beautiful one whole, and served it sliced like a pie with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce.  it was a big hit.

 

kookoo recipe: 

finely clean and chop (herbs should be chopped finely so that they can mix well with the other ingredients) one large organic bunch (1 cup chopped) each of: 

– cilantro, flat leaf parsley, and spinach (about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cup each chopped)

– 2 bunches sliced green onions or chives.

     combine the herbs in a bowl with:

  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3-4 organic eggs
  • 2-3 tbs flour  
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • a touch of cinnamon-about 1 tsp (if you like it)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs barberries (optional)

1. heat 2-3 tbs vegetable oil in a deep skillet, then carefully pour in the egg mixture and pat it down tightly with a spatula and allow  it cook on one side on med/low heat for about 20-25 minutes (with the lid on).
2. carefully flip the kookoo with the help of a round platter (this can be tricky, but is doable-trust me), and cook the other side for another 20-25. flip the kookoo (it should be crisp on the outside) out on to a platter, and let it sit a few minutes prior to serving. you can also cut the kookoo  in to small sized squares and serve as an appetizer with a side of yogurt. 

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my noosi’s dill herbed rice {شوید پلو} with black-eyed peas {loobia cheshm bolboli}: shevid polow

 

persian style dill herbed rice with blackened peasas soon as i saw the beautifully green bunches of fresh dill at the market i knew what i wanted (or almost had) to make with them. dill-herbed rice, or shevid-polow as we call it in farsi. dill is one of my absolute favorite herbs i can never resist buying when it is in season looking all fresh and darkish green and beautiful. i love the scent it creates and leaves in my kitchen as i chop it, and the slightly different aroma that surrounds me as it steams away with the basmati rice. [talking

black eyed peas and rice

about scents and aromas reminds me of a side note: this post on the lovely perfume blog kafkaesque references mine on baghali polow, another dish loaded with fresh dill]. as with most my food obsessions, i first fell in love with dill in my grandmother’s kitchen in Tehran-it seems to me she was always chopping herbs-or maybe i was so often around when she did, because i loved watching (and smelling) her doing it so much. it was the way she bunched them tightly together with one hand while gracefully slicing them ever so thinly with the other. she was a true expert with the knife. and so many other things. thinking back on it, hers was not a sophisticated kitchen with many fancy gadgets-but trust me when i tell you some serious magic happened there. and boy was i lucky to be a small part of it as taster/assistant/taster/observer/taster in chief.

finely chopped dill even though i didn’t fully realize it then, she was constantly, indirectly, and deliberately teaching me things every time i was with her.  i can hear her voice in my head: sharing, reminding, cautioning, praising, cautioning some more. one of the dishes she taught me was shevid polow layered with her favorite beans: black-eyed peas, or “cheshm bolboli” (translates to parrot eyes for obvious reasons). It is the type of absolutely delicious nourishing dish that reminds you of all good things and fills you with pure (stomach) contentment. well worth the work and the wait.

how to make shevid polow  {for 4-6}:

  • making persian rice with herbs2-2.5 cups finely chopped fresh dill (remove the thicker stalks, wash, allow dill to dry, then chop)
  • 2-3 cups basmati rice, washed several times in water until it runs clear
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dry rose petals (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron
  • 1-1.5  cups black-eyed peas, cooked (soak overnight and cook until just tender)
  • sea salt to taste (and for boiling the rice)

persian steamed rice with herbs

    1. bring a big pot (non stick) of salted water to boil (about 6-8 cups). add washed and drained basmati rice. allow it to come to a rolling boil and  keep the heat on high for about 7-9 minutes. turn off the heat and drain the rice in a mesh colander. wash with cold water and allow it to drain. also see this recipe for inspiration.
    2. add about 3-4 tbs of vegetable oil, 2-3 tsp of water and 1/2 of the ground saffron (or 4-6 saffron strands seeped in hot water) to the nonstick pan. heat together for 1-2 minutes on high. remove from heat and add a thin layer of rice, followed by a generous layer of dill and black-eyed peas (see pictures above). sprinkle evenly and lightly with cumin seeds, sea salt to taste, and cinnamon. (with your hands or a spatula) carefully combine everything together as you go.
    3. repeat this process until your ingredients are used and you have created a “dome” or pyramid of layers. top with remaining saffron and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon, cumin seeds, and rose petals. drizzle with another 3-4 tbs of oil (using a slotted spatula to evenly distribute) and about 1/4 cup of water.
    4. cover the pot first with a paper towel or clean dishtowel and then tightly with the lid. Heat the pot on high for about 8-10 minutes (stay close to the pot)-this will help create the favorite crispy rice (tag-deeg) at the bottom of the pot. reduce the heat after 10 minutes (at most) to med/low and allow the rice to steam for another 45 minutes to an hour. serve with saffron braised chicken, veal or lamb shanks and a shirazi salad (tomatoes, persian cucumbers, green onions, mint, lime juice, olive oil, sea salt & pepper).

shevid polow tahdeeg

 

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