Simply exotic: Persian fesenjan stew

Simply exotic: Persian fesenjan stew

A simple yet exotic stew featuring pomegranate and walnuts. A complex and sumptuous feast of Middle Eastern flavours!


While my daily cooking is quick and unfussy, sometimes I feel like trying something really new and exciting. Not because I set out to cook something fancy, but because I come across a dish that sounds too intriguing not to try. One such dish is the Persian stew called fesenjan.


I stumbled over the recipe in Niki Segnit's wonderful book Lateral Cooking. The page starts with these words:

"Imagine korma on opium."

Yes please! It sounded very exotic indeed: a stew featuring pomegranate and walnuts promising a complex and sumptuous feast of Middle Eastern flavours: sweet, savoury, sour and a dash of nutty bitterness too.

It wasn't too difficult to get the ingredients: while fresh pomegranates are not always easy to get, but pomegranate juice is widely available these days, and so are pomegranate molasses (A most wonderful concoction featuring in many Persian inspired Middle Eastern dishes - I'm surprised how often we get asked for it in the shop!)

Yet when I got cooking, I realised that, at its heart, this dish too, is 'just' a simple stew. It follows the typical stew pattern very closely: soften onion, add spices, add meat/veg, add liquid & 'special' ingredients, simmer until done. What makes it exotic and such a completely unique taste experience is the amazing combination of ingredients!

If you search online you'll find lots of recipes for fesenjan - below is my version from Niki Segnit's recipe.


YOU NEED

  • onions
  • meat (usually poultry or lamb) or a 'meaty' vegetable like aubergine
  • walnuts
  • pomegranate juice
  • pomegranate molasses
  • some honey or sugar
  • spices: cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, fenugreek (these vary between recipes, I didn't have saffron to hand on this occasion)
  • parsley and/or fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish


HOW TO

  • Lightly toast the walnuts in a dry pan then grind (I used a pestle and mortar)
  • Soften the onion in olive oil or ghee
  • Brown the meat or aubergine in the same pan
  • Stir in the spices
  • Add the walnuts, pomegranate juice and molasses NOTE: The ratio of walnuts to pomegranate juice in recipes varies: a good starting point is 250g of walnuts to 500ml of juice (ratio of 1:2). More nuts will make the sauce thicker, more juice will make the result more fruity.
  • Season with salt and a bit of honey/sugar to taste
  • Simmer slowly until the meat/veg is cooked and the sauce thickens (about an hour at least).
  • Garnish with parsley and/or pomegranate seeds. Serve with rice.

A showstopper of a dish that's so easy to make. Try this - it's absolutely amazing!
I'll leave you with another quote from Niki Segnit because she gets it so right about spotting the pattern and then experimenting with ingredients:

So many classic dishes are, at heart, flavour variations on a common theme [...] For instance, following the starting point for fesenjan, the Persian stew typically made with crushed walnuts and pomegranate molasses, you'll find other nut-based stews like korma, African mafe, Georgian satsivi, and Peruvian aji de gallina, all of which have ingredients in common and similar methods. Try a few of these lovely stews, and you'll soon be squirrelling through your cupboards for nuts to create your own take on them.

Categories: COOK, EXPLORE

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