By Jenny Ekberg
It is winter here in Brisbane, and pouring with cold rain. We are all cuddled up indoors wrapped in warm Indian blankets, hand printed in vivid colours. We are drinking hot chocolate and have lit candles all over the house. And the best of all – we are all encapsulated in the wondrous aroma of fesenjan, an amazing Persian special-occasion-dish, slow cooking for hours on the stove. Containing walnuts, saffron (my favourite spice) and pomegranate suryp, this dish truly is fit for a Persian queen. Or for a slightly chubby, spice-loving little 34-year old Swedish woman in a rained out Australian suburb and her rugged up family. Recipe for my version of Fesenjan follows below.
- 3 cups walnuts
- 1 cup pomegranate syrup. Click on this link to view my easy recipe of how to make syrup from either pomegranate juice or whole pomegranates.
- 1 to 1.5 kg of diced chicken or lamb or eggplant (veggie option!)
- 2 small sliced onions
- 3 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- an average sized pinch of saffron (about 1/6 of what is shown in my photo above; see also notes below about saffron
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (ground; I grind it myself)
- 3 cups of stock (chicken, beef or vegetable; try to go for the non-MSG option!)
- juice from either 2 limes or one lemon
- salt and pepper to taste. plus a little more sugar if you need to make it sweeter at the end.
- a large saucepan/pot with a lid and a rack/oven dish to toast the walnuts on.
- saffron rice (see below) or plain rice
- Natural yoghurt
- optional: pomegranate seeds, barberries (the same thing as berberis), sultanas, edible flowers for decoration
1. Toast the walnuts very, very lightly on a rack/oven dish at 160 degrees C/ 320 degrees F. This only takes a couple of minutes; stir them a few times so they don’t burn. When you start to smell them, but they are not burned, they are ready. Let them cool and grind them in a mortar until they are like a course meal.
2. Fry onions and garlic in some olive oil in a large sa on low heat until slightly browned.
3. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir for a couple of minutes.
4. Add the powdered walnuts, pomegranate syrup, saffron, stock and sugar, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
5. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20 min.
6. Add your meat or diced eggplant. Let it all keep simmering.
7. After another 20 min, add the lime or lemon juice.
8. Cook for a loooooong time. If you are using chicken, at least 2 hours. If using lamb, at least 4 hours. Eggplant: you can get away with 1 hour. The longer the better! Stir it every now and then, and add water if it gets too dry.The sauce will start to darken as the oils come out of the walnuts, and the delicious aromas of saffron and pomegrantate will start to fill your house with happiness.
9. Adjust salt, pepper and sugar to taste
Serve with rice (plain or saffron rice) and natural yoghurt, and if you like, add some pomegranate seeds, sultanas and/or barberries on top. If you want to make it extra fancy, do what I did and decorate with some vibrant edible flowers.
Saffron rice: Just chuck in a couple of saffron thread with the rice as you cook it! It makes the rice yellow and fragrant; I love it.
Savour fesenjan with your loved ones around a table full of laughter, or alone enjoying the silence. But make sure that you eat this dish in a warm, cosy atmosphere.
Note about saffron: Saffron really varies in quality. I have gone into a spice shop and found really cheap saffron sold in a big pack. It didn’t taste much at all. Make sure you get what you pay for. Good saffron has a really strong, distinct aroma and flavour. I am incredibly lucky; I have a good friend who regularly travels to Tehran and brings me a year’s supply of the real deal each time.
Thanks to my wonderful Persian friend and colleague Dr Fatemeh Chehrehasa for cooking this dish for me multiple times so I know what it should taste like, for supplying me with the “red gold” (saffron), and most of all for your friendship.