My darling Fesenjoon….how I love thee. Poems have been dedicated to this Persian gastronomical delight. Sweet and sour, the flavours of toasted walnuts and pomegranate marry to create one of the most unique and delicious stews to ever exist.
Fesenjoon is all about balance. In the West, when we talk about “balance” in cooking, we refer to flavour. In Eastern cultures it is much more complex. In the Far East, there exists the philosophy of yin and yang when it comes to food. Persian culture has a similar philosophy but our contrary forces are “warm” and “cold”. Walnuts are considered a “warm” food, while pomegranates are considered a “cold” food. The key to Persian cooking is to balance out “warm” and “cold”. In fact, eating too much of either is considered to contribute to many ailments. For instance, if your face has broken out into pimples, a Persian grandmother might accuse you of having eaten too many “warm” foods.
Besides being absolutely delicious, Festenjoon is a nutritionist’s dream come true. Packed with vitamins, fibre and antioxidants from the pomegranates, walnuts and butternut squash, Fesenjoon is a nutritional powerhouse that I’m sure would gain Dr. Oz’s praise. Fesenjoon is also a dish that can easily be adapted for vegetarians and vegans. Simply substitute the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the chicken for a vegetarian substitute such as Gardein “chicken cutlets” or my personal favourite Seitan (“wheat meat”) which can be purchased at most health food stores.
2 tbsp canola oil
2 small onions (or one large), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp turmeric
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs (if they are small use 10)
4 cups toasted* walnut halves
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/8 tsp ground saffron
3/4 cup pomegranate paste
2 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Heat canola oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Add the turmeric and saute for another minute.
Add the chicken pieces and brown for 10 minutes over medium heat.
Meanwhile, finely grind the walnuts in a food processor.
Remove the walnuts from the food processor (you don’t need to wash it out) and add the butternut squash. Process the butternut squash until finely ground as well.
Add the ground walnuts, the butternut squash, pomegranate paste, sugar, salt and saffron to the chicken mixture and gently stir until well combined.
When it comes to a simmer turn down heat to low, cover and cook for 2 hours. Make sure to stir occasionally and scrape the bottom so that it does not burn.
Taste the stew and adjust seasonings. It should be a balance of sweet and sour to your liking. You may add more pomegranate paste if you feel it needs more sour flavour and you can add more sugar if you feel it needs more sweet.
Serve with steamed basmati rice. Enjoy!
*Toast the walnuts by spreading them on a baking dish and baking for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Turning them over halfway.