Can someone out there please make me feel better about myself by sharing that you too are addicted to the Next Food Network Star? I don't know if it's my fantasy of one day having my own cooking show, or my love of screaming at the television when the contestants screw up something basic, but I am hooked. This season there is a feisty Iranian contestant, Penny Davidi, who always manages to stir up some Persian pride within me. I didn't realize quite how strongly I felt about it until she was eliminated this past week (despite the judges telling her she made the best food week after week) and I was seriously angry. Reading people's comments about her elimination on Twitter made me realize how excited the American public was about having a new potential link to Iranian food.
All this made me disappointed in myself for so rarely posting recipes for Iranian dishes on this blog. It's partially because I don't make Iranian food very frequently (as it can be quite labor intensive!) and partially because so many Iranian stews don't end up look so beautiful (remember this one?).
During my childhood, I refused to even try fesenjan. I was totally put off by it's less-than-appetizing appearance and insisted it must be gross. Only in adulthood, when I finally got around to actually tasting it did I fall totally in love with this traditional Iranian stew. The tart pomegranate, the nuttiness of the walnuts, the sweet from the little bit of sugar, the sour from the lemon--it literally bursts with flavor. When I tried making fesenjan myself, I was amazed at how easy it was. Give this recipe a whirl and taste its unique, delicious tanginess yourself!
1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
4 cups (16 oz) walnuts
1 can pumpkin*
8 pieces chicken, bone-in
2-4 cups pomegranate juice (or a few tablespoons of robe anaar (pomegranate concentrate) and water)
a pinch of Iranian saffron
a pinch of Iranian saffron
3-5 tablespoons sugar
In a food processor (or with a mortar and pestle, or with a ziplock bag and a rolling pin), ground the walnuts for a minute or two until the walnuts are completely ground, some of their oil starts releasing, and their consistency is like peanut butter.
In a pan, caramelize the onions. They should develop a nice color but keep the heat low enough so they are soft, not crunchy. Add the chicken to the pan and brown the outside for a couple minutes on each side.
When the chicken is browned, add the onions and the chicken your stockpot (if you don't have one, you can do this over the stove on low heat in a pot). Add the walnuts, pumpkin, and enough pomegranate juice to cover the chicken.
Turn your stockpot to low and let the stew cook for at least an hour up to ten hours. I usually leave it overnight.**
Take the chicken out of the stockpot, and put it on a plate to cool. Once cooled, use your hands to remove the bones and shred the chicken meat. Then add it back to the stew. Add salt, pepper, the juice of one lemon, and a pinch of saffron (Iranian, not Spanish if you can get it) to the stew. Next add the sugar tablespoon by tablespoon, tasting to reach your preferred level of sweetness. Some people like their fesenjan very sweet, and others prefer it to be more tart. With mine, I try to reach a balance between the sweet, sour, and tart so that it is not too much of either. After adding the sugar, you're done!
Serve with white or brown rice.
*Pumpkin is not a traditional component of fesenjoon, but my mom adds it for extra flavor and heft. You could also use 3 or 4 carrots, pureed, or omit this part all together.
**When my mom first taught my this recipe, I couldn't believe that the chicken wouldn't become dry and rubbery after all that time cooking, but the stew liquid keeps it tender and moist.