This week the Persian community worldwide celebrates Norooz – a secular and special festival of Spring marking the exact moment of the Spring equinox (March 20). A great deal of delicious food will be eaten over the next few days and it’s a time for families and friends to come together and celebrate.
I’m marking Norooz this lunchtime with a wonderful Persian chicken dish called Fesenjoon. It is slow cooked with ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses and has a sweet and sour taste that is really pretty gastronomic and utterly delicious.
Pomegranates have been used for centuries in the Middle East as a cooking ingredient. If you want to eat them fresh, they are a pain to prepare as you’ve got to carefully remove the ruby color seeds from a thick pith to eat them but they are worth the work. Pomegranates are full of nutrition as they are high in fiber and low in calories and contain Vitamins C and K.
This recipe uses pomegranate molasses (that you can buy in a good Middle Eastern food market) which contain added sugar. The dish needs extra sweetness on top of this so I used agave sugar which is a lighter natural plant based sweetener and works really well but you can use sugar if you prefer. Also I would only cook this on very special occasions as it’s a pretty rich meal.
Fesenjoon Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranate
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1lb 5 oz walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs
Salt and Pepper
3 tbsp agave syrup
5 cups cold water
2 cups pomegranate molasses
Juice from a lime or lemon plus pomegranate seeds to garnish
- Preheat a medium-sized saucepan and pour the olive oil in. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent and lightly browned.
- In another pan, toast the flour until light brown and then add the walnuts, mixing well. Add the water to the walnuts, stir well, and bring the mixture to a slow boil, then cover with a lid and allow to cook for over 1 hour over a low heat. This will cook the walnuts and soften their texture. Once see the natural oils of the walnuts rise to the surface, the walnuts are cooked.
- Add the agave syrup and pomegranate molasses to the walnuts and stir well for 1 minute. Add this sauce to the chicken and onions, cover and cook for about 2 hours. Every half an hour give the stew a stir to stop the walnuts sticking and burning in the pan.
- You will end up with a rich dark brown colored stew plus your kitchen will smell absolutely amazing!
- Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds, squeeze some fresh lime juice over the stew and serve with steamed fluffy basmati rice. Best lunch ever!