The pomegranate (anaar) is a symbol of life, marriage and fertility. It’s also my favourite fruit. I love fruit that’s tart in taste, but pomegranates also have a special significance in my life. They remind me of my gran. She would buy them whenever she looked after me and we’d sit together and eat them in front of the TV, plucking out the seeds with a pin.
They also remind me of being six weeks pregnant with Cyrus in Persia. I craved the fruit so much that in the middle of the night my husband and his brother went to get a box of them for me from the stall. They then sat for hours at home chatting and peeling them. Now at this stage in my pregnancy I often felt really dizzy, so my brother-in-law would poke a few holes in a pomegranate and squeeze the juice into a glass for me. The taste was amazing and it worked wonders for my dizzy spells.
My favourite Persian dish
When I initially met my husband’s family in the Gilan province in Northern Iran, they were surprised but very happy that I had such a strong taste of the tartness of fruits. That’s when they invited me to try Khoresht-e Fesenjan. I spent three weeks eating fesenjan for lunch, dinner and tea as all of H’s family wanted to cook the best dish for me. Let’s just say I haven’t looked back. It’s my favourite Persian dish and I am delighted to say that I have mastered the art of cooking it too, which always surprises Persians I meet for the first time.
Famous Persian stew
Khoresht-e Fesenjan is probably THE most famous of Persian stews and it does take a long time to cook (three hours or so) but it’s worth the wait. It’s made with rob-e anaar or pomegranate syrup and ground walnuts which gives it a tart taste and thick texture. The ingredients of the dish – pomegranates, chicken and walnuts – have been traced back in the Persian diet to 515 B.C. by means of an unearthed tablet inscription.
Depending on how you cook fesenjan, it can take on either a sweet or sour taste. I prefer it to have a ‘torsh’ (tart) taste, but some people like to add sugar to the recipe. In most families, the stew is made with chicken or duck and is served with polo or chelo (white or yellow Persian rice). Back to the recipe! The recipe below will serve 4 people.
Khoresht-e Fesenjan recipe
- Use a blender to grind the walnuts into a smooth paste and set the mixture to one side.
- Wash and pat dry chicken and then brown them in a pan with one onion, a teaspoon of turmeric, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and salt and pepper.
- Add three cups of water to cover the chicken and leave to cook for around an hour. Once the chicken is cooked, set aside.
- Pour the walnut paste into the chicken stock and heat on medium for around an hour and a half.
- Add pomegranate syrup bit by bit and taste until you have it the way you want it. Simmer on low heat for an additional 35-45 minutes.
- Add the chicken back into the pan, cover and simmer for 10 minutes longer. Serve over warm rice.