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Fesenjān (Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Meat Braise) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Grinding the walnuts to the dimensions of coarse cornmeal earlier than simmering them provides velvety physique and wealthy nutty taste to the ultimate dish. 
  • The pomegranate molasses provides acidity and a little bit of sweetness, leading to a novel sweet-and-sour taste.
  • Intensive variation notes clarify make this recipe with rooster, duck, or as a vegetarian meal with eggplant or butternut squash.

Persian delicacies is known for its slow-cooked meat braises. For hundreds of years, braises have been an integral and expansive class of dishes throughout the Persian culinary panorama. The Persian phrase for a meat braise is khoresh (additionally known as khoresht). There’s a variety of Persian khoreshes incorporating several types of meat, greens, fruit, nuts, grains, beans, and legumes, along with regional specialties and people requiring contemporary short-lived seasonal substances.

One of the crucial well-known khoreshes is fesenjān (a.ok.a. fesenjoon or khoresh-e-fesanjān), a uniquely Persian sweet-and-sour meat braise that includes floor walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The contrasting textures and flavors of the pomegranate molasses and the bottom walnuts come collectively to create a thick and wealthy braise with an attention grabbing darkish brown coloration and delicate sweet-and-sour taste. Such a light sweet-and-sour taste is attribute of a number of Persian dishes. Actually, there’s a single phrase for it in Persian: malass.

The dish’s fame is available in half from the truth that previous to the twentieth century, fesenjān was often called the “meals of royals” as a result of its substances had been thought-about luxurious and due to this fact past the attain of most individuals. For the reason that early twentieth century, with the inclusion of its recipe in early modern Persian-language cookbooks particularly written for dwelling cooks, and as some substances have grow to be extra broadly out there and reasonably priced, fesenjān has grow to be probably the most well-known and in style Persian khoreshes, each in Iran and the Iranian diaspora. As such, some check with fesenjān because the queen of Persian dishes.

Regardless of its royal popularity, fesanjān could be a easy dish to make. There are solely three key substances: pomegranate molasses, walnuts, and meat, which collectively create a uniquely luxurious dish. Though essentially the most well-known (and historical) model is made with duck, it’s equally scrumptious with lamb, beef, rooster, turkey, different fowl, fish, and even with tiny meatballs. Don’t be discouraged concerning the period of time it takes to make this dish. As soon as the whole lot is cooking within the pot, all it’s important to do is let it simmer gently on the stovetop. 

For individuals who subscribe to historical culinary humoral rules and practices, as some Persians nonetheless do (the place heat, chilly, dry, and moist temperaments had been assigned to substances and dishes), Fesenjān is taken into account a impartial dish, because the “coldness” of pomegranate is balanced by the “warmness” of walnut.

Historical past of Fesenjān

Fesenjān and its key substances have an extended legacy in Persian cookery. Within the Thirties, archaeologists from the College of Chicago discovered clay tablets on the ruins of Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 CBE), that listed pomegranates, walnuts, and poultry among the many pantry staples of the early individuals of Iran.

The earliest documented description and recipe for the dish itself, as we all know it at this time, are in two historic Persian-language cookbooks from the 1800s. Certainly one of these gives detailed recipes for 2 completely different variations of fesenjān and offers credit score for the dish’s creation to the individuals residing on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, the place there have been loads of wild geese. The second describes ten completely different variations of the dish. 

Since ten completely different variations of fesenjān had been well-known again within the 1800s, it’s secure to imagine that the dish had been round a lot sooner than that. Actually, though not known as fesenjān, there are descriptions of a number of braise-type dishes incorporating floor walnuts and pomegranate juice or syrup within the two oldest surviving Persian-language cookbooks from the 1600s.

Along with its inclusion in historic Persian-language cookbooks, there may be additionally an enthralling folktale about how fesenjān happened. It’s mentioned that Shah Tahmasp I, the second monarch of the Persian Safavid Dynasty (c. 1501-1736), having gotten bored with the green-colored dishes he was keen on, ordered his royal prepare dinner to organize a brown dish for the following day’s lunch. That night, the prepare dinner, in collaboration along with his spouse and their younger daughter, got here up with fesenjān, which was very a lot favored by the monarch the following day.

Fesenjān’s Position in persian Tradition

Fesenjān is usually served for household particular events or to honor notable company. It’s also a vital a part of some Persian marriage ceremony meals. Above all, fesenjān has a distinguished place within the night meal throughout Shab-e-Yaldā which is the Persianate world’s celebration of the winter solstice—the longest evening of the yr. Shab-e-Yaldā, which accurately interprets to “the evening of Yalda,” is the second-most vital cultural celebration in Persianate societies, second solely to the Persian new year.

Along with secular events, fesenjān is usually served at a variety of vital non secular ceremonies. It’s a in style dish for the night meal throughout the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims, who’re observing each day fasting, break their quick. For some Iranian Christians, it’s a part of the Christmas Eve dinner. Fesenjān can also be an vital part on many Iranian Jewish Rosh Hashanah tables. Actually, recipes for fesanjān seem in lots of in style Jewish cookbooks, reminiscent of The E-book of Jewish Meals by Claudia Roden, in addition to in some Jewish neighborhood cookbooks, together with one printed by the Persian Hebrew Congregation of Skokie, Illinois, in 2015.

Individuals residing within the northern Iranian provinces of Gilān and Māzandarān, the place fesenjān is alleged to have originated, like their fesenjān as darkish as doable—nearly black. Over centuries, they’ve give you methods and methods to attain the best ranges of darkness desired. Essentially the most fascinating methodology entails the usage of an iron horseshoe or an iron railroad monitor nail. After totally cleansing the horseshoe or nail, the prepare dinner heats it over an open hearth earlier than throwing it right into a simmering braise. The concept is that the acid of the pomegranate molasses and the tannins of the bottom walnuts work together with the chunk of iron, darkening the colour of the dish. I don’t advocate you do that at dwelling.

Past Iran and Iranian diaspora communities all over the world, fesenjān is eaten with some frequency in neighboring counties of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, and the Parsi communities of India. 

Fesenjān’s Key Substances

Pomegranate Molasses (Robb-é-Anār)

The pomegranate has been a participant within the culinary habits of Persian societies for hundreds of years. Crucial pomegranate-based ingredient in Persian cookery, constituted of pomegranate juice, is robe-é-anār, recognized within the West as pomegranate molasses. Though it has been extraordinarily in style in Persian communities for hundreds of years (in addition to Turkish, Azerbaijanian, Indian, and different cultures in these areas), it’s lesser recognized to Western palates.

Culinarily talking, pomegranate molasses is a juice that has been concentrated by very light boiling, which explains its Persian language identify, robe-é-anār, the place “gown means thickened fruit and “anār” means pomegranate. This magical sweet-and-sour substance is made by gently boiling pure contemporary pomegranate juice over an prolonged interval till a deep, darkish crimson syrup is fashioned. Pomegranate molasses is a key ingredient in Persian dishes together with braises, soups, vegetable dishes, kabābs, fish dishes, condiments, and marinades.

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari

Excessive-quality, pure pomegranate molasses has a vibrant dark-crimson coloration. At room temperature, it has the consistency of a pourable thick syrup, much like gentle corn syrup or honey. It has a sweet-and-sour style, however it’s extra tart than sugary in comparison with that of different fruit molasses, reminiscent of date or grape molasses, as a result of pomegranate fruit has much less sugar than these. Its sourness additionally relies on the range and ripeness of the pomegranates it was produced from. 

Commercially produced pomegranate molasses is available in glass bottles from Persian and Center Jap markets, in addition to within the worldwide meals aisles of well-stocked grocery shops. Sadly, many industrial producers add sugar to their bottled pomegranate molasses, and a few boil theirs too quick and/or too sizzling, leading to a coloration that’s extra darkish caramel brown than the specified vibrant darkish crimson. Since there is no such thing as a enforced standardization for pomegranate molasses, one can find manufacturers that label their merchandise as molasses, focus, syrup, or paste. Furthermore, some manufacturers have a number of variations with completely different viscosities and completely different sugar contents. For instance, Sadaf model has each a “focus” and a “molasses” model, whereas Cortas model has each a “no-sugar-added” and a “sugar-added” model. Look at the checklist of substances for added sugar, then tip the bottle whereas holding it towards a lightweight supply to get a really feel each for its coloration and its consistency. My suggestion is to search for a product that has little-to-no added sugar, a thick however pourable consistency (not like ketchup however extra like honey), and a stunning darkish crimson coloration.

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari

Though it’s a bit time consuming and requires persistence, pomegranate molasses can be made at home, both from entire pomegranates that you just juice your self or from generally out there pomegranate juice reminiscent of these from the Pom model. The benefit of home made pomegranate molasses is that you’re sure it has no added sugar, and when you take your time cooking it down, it should have an exquisite scarlet coloration. As a aspect notice, if you find yourself making your personal pomegranate molasses, along with utilizing it to make a fesenjān, you may as well use it to drizzle on high of contemporary inexperienced leaf salads or over grilled greens. 


After pistachios, walnuts are an important nut that one would discover in a typical Persian pantry. This isn’t stunning, because the origin of the widespread walnut that you just discover in a grocery retailer goes again to historical Persia.

Floor walnuts are a key ingredient of fesenjān. Amongst Persian dwelling cooks, regional and private preferences dictate how finely the walnuts are floor, starting from pea-size bits right down to a paste. My desire is someplace in between—concerning the measurement of coarse cornmeal. I need my tongue to really feel the bottom walnuts, however I don’t need to have to make use of my tooth to chew them!

Selection of Meat

I have no idea of every other Persian khoresh that’s amenable to so many various sorts of meat—duck, beef, lamb, pork, rooster, turkey, different fowl, fish, and even tiny meatballs. Sure, the duck model is essentially the most well-known and most prestigious. Nevertheless, it’s considerably concerned and time-consuming to organize and trickier to get proper, provided that it entails breaking down a complete duck and cooking its completely different components for various quantities of time (that mentioned, one can find directions for use duck within the variations part beneath). If that is your first time making fesenjān, it’s higher to strive lamb or beef, as they’re faster and simpler to organize.

The very best cuts of lamb for Persian-style braising are leg, shoulder, neck, and shank. My on a regular basis go-to minimize for braising is lamb leg. It’s a hardworking muscle with loads of intramuscular fats and connective tissue that breaks down throughout an extended braise, making a texture that’s moist and tender.

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari

In the event you resolve to go along with beef, the best cuts of beef for braising embrace chuck, bone-in quick rib, shanks, and as a deal with, oxtail.

Indicators of a Correct Braise

An vital idea in Persian cookery—significantly with braising—is named “ja-oftādan.” There isn’t any single good English phrase that it interprets to. It’s that final desired stage of a braise the place all of the substances are totally built-in, or “married” collectively. There isn’t any free-flowing watery clear liquid, substances don’t sink to the underside of the pot, all meat has reached the “falling off the bone” stage (even when there is no such thing as a bone within the dish), and any fats within the dish has grow to be stained by the pigments of different substances, showing as shiny swimming pools on the floor of the braise. 

You may inform fesenjān has reached its desired ultimate stage when it has achieved a deep brown coloration much like that of darkish brown sugar; chunks of meat are poking out of their thick environment; and swimming pools of translucent, shiny, nearly neon-green oil, launched naturally by the walnuts, are circling the pot.

Individuals residing within the Iranian northern provinces of Gilān and Māzandarān, the place fesenjān is alleged to have originated, have a tendency to love it sourer than others, and due to this fact they use domestically sourced pomegranate molasses constituted of wild pomegranate timber of the area, which have a way more tart juice. Individuals who dwell in and round Tehran are recognized to want their fesenjān barely sweeter, so that they add a little bit of sugar to the braise. Within the central and southern areas of Iran, fesenjān has a sweeter style from the addition of date or grape syrup. My recipe is extra just like the model most well-liked by the Tehranites.

Ensure to take good notes whereas making fesenjān for the primary time, in an effort to modify issues in future batches. Particularly, preserve monitor of the tartness and consistency of the pomegranate molasses you utilize, the ensuing sweet-tart taste of the ultimate dish, and the coarseness of the walnuts you grind.

Frequent Fesenjān Variations and The way to Adapt This Recipe to Make Them

I have no idea of every other Persian khoresh (braise) that has so many confirmed variations. Listed here are examples of how this braise could also be tailored.

  • Different Kinds of Nuts: Numerous areas of Iran make fesenjān utilizing different forms of nuts. Pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts can be utilized rather than the walnuts to make a very flavorful braise. 
  • Vegetarian: There are two in style vegetarian variations the place the meat is changed with eggplant or butternut squash. For the eggplant model: In step 2, omit the meat and as a substitute peel an equal quantity by weight of eggplant. Lower them in half lengthwise, then pan-fry them till deep orange-brown coloration, about 10 minutes. In step 6, let the water, onion, and walnut combination simmer for 45 minutes, then add the eggplant and proceed to simmer for an additional 45 minutes. For the butternut squash model: In step 2, omit the meat and use about 1 pound of peeled and seeded butternut squash that is been minimize into 1-inch cubes. In step 6, let the water, onion, and walnut combination simmer for half-hour, then add the squash and proceed to simmer for an additional 60 minutes.
  • Meatballs: Totally combine 1 pound (500g) floor lamb or beef, 1 grated small onion, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon floor black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon floor turmeric collectively in a big bowl, then kind into 1-inch meatballs. In step 2, omit the meat and as a substitute pan-fry the meatballs in batches till browned throughout, 8 to 10 minutes. In step 6, let the water, onion, and walnut combination simmer for half-hour earlier than including the meatballs. Proceed to simmer for an additional 60 minutes
  • Rooster Components: Rooster fesenjān might be made with rooster drumsticks or boneless skinless rooster breasts, or a small entire rooster. If utilizing drumsticks: In step 2, substitute 4 or 5 rooster drumsticks for the meat. In step 6, let the water, onion, and walnut combination simmer for 45 minutes earlier than including the drumsticks. Proceed to simmer for 45 minutes. Historically, if fesenjān is made with rooster or duck drumsticks in it, the drumsticks are prominently displayed within the serving platter. If utilizing boneless skinless rooster breasts: Substitute 1 pound boneless skinless rooster breasts, minimize into 1-inch chunks, for the meat. Omit the browning in step 2. In step 6, let the water, onion, and walnut combination simmer for 45 minutes earlier than including the rooster breasts. Proceed to simmer for an additional 45 minutes. 

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari

  • Entire Bone-In Duck or Rooster: Cut up a whole bone-in duck or chicken into its main components (6 to eight items). In step 2, omit meat and brown all poultry components together with the spine and neck, in batches if wanted. In a Dutch oven, add browned poultry items, 3 cups water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon floor turmeric. Carry to boil over excessive warmth, cowl, scale back warmth to medium-low, and simmer for 1 hour. Take away the 2 drumsticks and put aside. Proceed to simmer till meat is falling off the bone, about half-hour. Take away poultry items and let cool barely. Take away the pores and skin and bones from the cooked items, leaving the 2 drumsticks untouched. Proceed with step 1, skipping the browning of the meat and utilizing the liquid that the poultry items had been cooked as a substitute of water that has been known as for within the main recipe. As soon as the dish has been simmering for 45 minutes, add each drumsticks and the deboned cooked duck meat and simmer for an additional 45 min.

Severe Eats / Nader Mehravari

  • Simply the Sauce: It’s time to offer away a semi-secret that’s typically utilized in some Persian eating places within the diaspora. Observe the first recipe and skip all references to meat. You’ll find yourself with a thick, savory, deep-brown, nutty, sweet-and-sour fesenjān “sauce.” You may make giant batches of it days or even weeks forward of time. While you need to serve a fesenjān-sort-of-a-dish, heat up a few ladles filled with the sauce and pour over items of cooked meat.

The way to Serve Fesenjān

Like virtually all different Persian khoreshes, fesenjān is finest served with Persian steamed white rice (chelow), together with a couple of items of Persian crunchy rice (tahdig). Alternatively, fesenjān might be accompanied with a wide range of Persian flatbreads (e.g., lavāsh, sangak, tāftoon, babari) or one other sort of flat bread reminiscent of pita.

Here’s a secret for having fun with leftover fesenjān that I grew up with (though I’ve since seen a reference to it in a single Persian language cookbook): Unfold a number of spoonsful of leftover chilly fesenjān in your favourite bread, making a chilly sandwich. It’s excellent as a snack in addition to for a picnic.

Given the richness of fesenjān, a aspect of Persian Shirāzi salad, Persian māst-o-khiār (chopped or grated cucumber, yogurt, crushed dried mint leaves), and/or the ever-present Persian plate of contemporary herbs known as sabzi-khordan (any mixture of contemporary mint, tarragon, Thai basil, watercress, scallion, radish) is customary, however not obligatory.

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