Recipe contributed by Ellie Ashoori. Fesenjoon (also known as fesenjan) is a staple at Persian Jewish simchas—weddings and engagement parties, b’nai mitzvot and brits. There are two reasons. First, turkey is considered a more luxurious and gamey meat in Iran, and second, walnuts have always been considered a more pricey and festive ingredient (as is pomegranate concentrate/syrup/paste). The reason so many Jews make it on Rosh Hashanah is because the many seeds in the pomegranate are symbolic of starting a sweet and fruitful new year. Fesenjoon is chametz-free, which makes it perfect for Passover, too. I also make this dish on many Shabbat nights simply because it is easy and festive. I used to call it “chocolate stew” to convince my kids to eat it, but they were always smarter than that.
This is the way my family has always made fesenjoon. My mom is from Hamedan province (Esther and Mordechai’s city), so the people from that area like the stew sweet and sour. My dad is from Kurdistan province, and they also make it sourer. Other provinces don’t put sugar or dates in the stew and keep it sour with pomegranate sauce. Some make it with ground meatballs instead of poultry. The northern provinces (close to the Caspian sea) make it with prunes and plums, and, yes, it is even sourer—delicious in a different way. These northern residents of Iran also make it with duck since they have more access to hunting meat and game. For me, the duck makes it too rich and fatty. As for where to get the pomegranate molasses and date syrup, some Persian, Indian and other Middle Eastern stores as well as some kosher markets carry them.
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 pounds skinless turkey or chicken breasts (drumsticks or thighs can be substituted)
- 1 cup cold water or chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon saffron
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup pomegranate molasses (pomegranate sauce)
- 2/3 cup date syrup or 1 cup chopped candied dates or 1 cup ground dates (if you use both candied dates and syrup, use ½ cup of each)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Pomegranate seeds for garnish
- Chop the walnuts finely to very small, grainy pieces (the size of panko breadcrumbs). If you use a food processor, pulse until walnuts become a grainy paste. In a large, dry skillet, toast ground walnuts for just a couple of minutes, stirring carefully as we just want the walnuts to toast a bit and not burn. Remove from the heat and set walnut mixture aside. In a large stewing pot, heat vegetable oil over medium-low heat and sauté the sliced onion until caramelized to a golden brown. Add poultry and water or stock. Let simmer for 45 minutes. Take out the poultry and add the toasted walnut paste, saffron and cinnamon. Let mixture simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Once the walnut mixture caramelizes and foams at the top of the pot, stir in the pomegranate molasses and bring to a boil over medium heat. As the mixture comes to a boil, slowly spoon the candied dates or date syrup into your pot, combining well. When all the dates or syrup is added and the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent any scorching. Once the sauce is thickened add the poultry back to the pot and let simmer for another 15 minutes. You can set aside one piece of chicken or turkey, slice thin and add it for garnish later on top of the stew. Pour all the stew in a dish, sprinkle some pomegranate seeds and your sliced turkey piece on top as garnish. Serve with Persian basmati rice.
- Vegetarian version: Omit the poultry, and instead, put one large carrot or a large piece of butternut squash or pumpkin in the pot for flavor and color (cook time will probably be shorter, just until the vegetable is tender). You can serve the sauce with the vegetable cut up. However, in my family, we remove the vegetable and save it for something else and just serve the thick sauce with rice.
- Photo courtesy of flickr user insatiablemunch