Persian fesenjan is a sweet-and-sour stew, rich with ground walnuts and tart pomegranate

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen
Fesenjan is a traditional Persian stew made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

The flavor of fesenjan, a classic Iranian stew regularly featured on the menus of weddings and special occasions, is a magical combination of rich ground walnuts and tart pomegranate.

Served on a bed of fluffy rice and decorated with jewel-like pomegranate seeds, this stew makes a stunning addition to any holiday table. This is a perfect dish to make ahead because the flavor gets better as it sits.

Look for unsweetened pomegranate molasses at Iranian and Middle Eastern markets or online; pomegranate molasses made with added sugar can taste candy-like, so it’s better to start with unsweetened pomegranate molasses and add a dash of sugar or honey if the stew tastes too tart.

Adapted from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Olive oil, for searing

2 pounds skinless chicken legs or breasts

1 teaspoon turmeric

Salt

1 yellow onion, finely diced

1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely ground

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, plus extra

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock

Pomegranate seeds and fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Instructions

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat and add just enough oil to coat the pan. Season the chicken with the turmeric and a generous amount of salt. Sear for 6 to 7 minutes per side, until well browned, then transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, sauté the onion over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Stir in the walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and cinnamon. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and return the chicken to the stew. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, until the stew is thick and the chicken is cooked through. Adjust the salt, and add more pomegranate molasses if the stew needs more acid and fruitiness.

Pull out the chicken with tongs and cut it into 1-2 inch pieces. Add the chicken back into the stew. At this point, you can either serve the stew or let it cool to room temperature and store it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Reheat the stew thoroughly before serving and adjust the seasoning as needed. To serve, garnish liberally with the pomegranate seeds and herbs.

Vegetarian option

Substitute a medium-sized butternut squash for the chicken: peel and dice the squash, and roast it in the oven with oil and a dash of salt until tender, then add it to the stew and simmer for about 15 minutes so the flavors marry and the squash still holds its shape.