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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khoresh-e-karafs: persian celery stew with braised beef, parsley, and mint

IMG_3635koresh-e-karafs is a staple meal at our house. once in a while we forget about it for several weeks-then it starts to feel like we’re missing something, and soon enough, some one will inevitably request it typically on {persian food} sundays. i’m not really sure why we (all) enjoy it so much, but that is the biggest appeal of this dish-everyone is happy when it’s on the menu-for us, there are few things more welcoming than the minty smell of this stew combined with the aroma of steaming basmati rice to welcome you home on a sunday afternoon. there are two ways to prepare it-and there is often discussion (and disagreement) about the right or best version. in my family it was always prepared the green (sabz) way-with lots of fresh parsley and mint. some people make the red version, with tomato sauce and saffron. i (much) prefer the green version-it reminds me of my childhood home and makes me feel warm and fuzzy each and every time.
ingredients for 4-6 servings:
  • 2 pounds grass fed (organic) beef or veal (stew meat)
  • 2 heads of organic celery, cleaned and cut in 2-3 inch pieces
  • 3 bunches flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 bunches fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) onions, thinly sliced-some as {piaz dagh}
  • 1-2 tsp ground saffron (or 6-7 saffron threads seeped in warm water)
  • sea salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tbs turmeric
  • 3-4 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice (or sour grape juice-ab ghooreh)
  • vegetable oil (avocado, safflower or  oil of choice)
  • 2 cups basmati rice (brown basmati rice, or steamed quinoa for a healthier option work well)
let’s start with the stew beef, which should be trimmed and cubed:

1. cook the beef in a deep pot with 1 tbs vegetable oil, 3/4 of an onion, thinly sliced, sea salt, ground pepper, and 2 tbs turmeric-sautee the beef on all sides on high heat for about 5-7 minutes, then add 1 cup water, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. simmer for at least an hour-until the beef is tender, but still has some juices left.

2. add 1 tsp saffron about 10 minutes before the beef is ready (after at least 50 minutes), simmer for 10-15 minutes more, then remove from heat.

3. while the beef is cooking, sautee the cut, cleaned, and drained celery with 2 tbs vegetable oil, 1 tbsp turmeric,  & sea salt in a skillet on medium/low heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until it is tender and slightly “golden” (fried).

4. remove the celery from the skillet, set aside, then add the chopped parsley and mint to the same skillet with 1 tbs oil and fry (or sautee) on med/low heat for about 5-7 minutes-there should be very little moisture left in the herbs (see photo below).

5. add the “fried” celery back to the skillet, and combine with herbs.


6. add the cooked stew beef to the celery & herb mixture, combine carefully, then add lemon (or sour grape) juice, sea salt, pepper, the rest of the saffron, and 1/4 of the sliced onions, fried separately (see piaz dagh (fried onion) recipe), plus a 1/4-1/2 cup filtered water. allow the stew to simmer on low heat for about 40-45 minutes, and up to an hour. as the stew cooks, taste it and adjust the salt and lemon juice as needed.

7. you should start cooking the rice about 1 1/2 hours prior to serving. see steamed rice recipe here.
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spinach and dry plum stew (khoresh-e-aloo esfenaj) to welcome the new season

let’s make stew: sweet & sour braised beef with spinach and dry plums

{ خورش اسفناج و آلو }

aloo esfenaj stew

for some reason i had spinach stew on my mind when i woke up this morning. this is worrisome on many levels. to be thinking of food (not of the breakfast category) first thing in the morning can be a little dangerous, particularly when you are (almost constantly) trying (notice i said t-r-y-i-n-g) to restrict and control your intake of said food (while dreaming of the elusive delicious kind that is not only good for you but completely calorie free). beyond that, i have never been a fan of spinach stew (aka khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj), or even tasted it. the idea of it has always appealed to me, but i strictly avoided it as a kid (not exactly the perfect meal choice for a picky eater), and never really came across it much as i grew up and developed a (much needed) more advanced and sophisticated palate. i  have loved dry plums ever since i sneaked them out of my grandmother’s pantry as a kid and slowly savored their naturally sweet and sour flavor while they soaked in a corner of my mouth. nowadays, i like to soak them in a bowl of water and watch them soften and plump up to their original size. i think the bag of aloo that’s been sitting on my pantry shelf may have had a little something to do with my early morning inspiration. either way,  i’m so glad i’ve officially added this delicious stew to my favorite recipes list. not having ever cooked aloo esfenaj before, i decided to use the general method for making most persian stews, which begins by braising  your meat of choice (in this case chunks of grass fed organic stew beef) with onions and turmeric. once your meat (this will work really well with lamb or veal shanks) is nicely braised the remainder of the dish comes together surprisingly easily. i can’t believe i’ve been missing out on khoreshe-e-aloo esfenaj all these years! depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding the dry plums which are sold in most middle eastern grocery stores. If you have to substitute, i’m pretty sure prunes (omit the sugar in this case) will work just as well.


braised beef (and aloo esfenaj) for 6-8:

braised beef with turmeric

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds lean organic (grass fed) stew beef (or lamb or veal shanks)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach (frozen can be used-2 pounds-defrost and drain excess water)
  • 15-20 dry plums (aloo bokhara) or prunes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbs raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup avocado (or olive) oil
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs fresh lime juice

cooking spinach

  1. in a dutch oven (or deep skillet) brown 1 onion with your meat of choice in about  3 tbs oil. add turmeric, and salt & pepper to taste. pour 1.5-2 cups water over the browned meat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour (30 minutes more for shanks) until meat is tender.
  2. in a skillet, brown the remaining onion in oil until golden brown (piaz dagh), then and add the spinach (roughly chopped) with a touch of sea salt and stir fry carefully until spinach has reduced and all the liquid is absorbed.
  3. add fried spinach and onions to the beef in the dutch oven (and prunes if using) and allow stew to simmer covered for about 45 minutes. add dry plums, sugar, and lime juice. taste and adjust seasoning. cover and simmer for another 40 minutes to an hour.
  4. serve with saffron steamed rice (leave out the spices except for saffron).

persian esfenaj aloo stew

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