Monday, March 19, 2012

Pomegranate and Walnut Chicken Stew (Khoresht-e-Fesenjan)

March 21st is both the first day of spring and Navroz (Persian New Year). To learn more about the holiday, please see my blog post for kuku, a herb frittata commonly made for the occasion.

Several recent films have featured Persian characters or culture. The 2004 Oscar-winning Crash depicted an Iranian-American shop owner and his daughter. The 2007 action film 300 portrayed the ancient victory of the Spartans over the Persian King Xerxes and his army. That same year, the animated film Persepolis depicted the coming-of-age of a young Iranian woman. Last year marked the release of A Separation, which follows the separation of a middle class couple in Tehran. This January, the film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, becoming the first Iranian film to garner that honor.

Persia has also recently shown up in television. The current show 90210 features a Persian American character named Navid Shirazi and I recently learned of a new reality show – the Shahs of Sunset – about some members of the Persian community in Southern California.

The interest is beginning to extend to Persian cuisine which is becoming increasingly popular in North America.  Even some South Asian dishes – including biryani – have their origins in Iran.  One of my favorite dishes is this rich and sweet chicken stew made with walnuts and pomegranates.  This is an easy and forgiving dish; it can be made several days in advance and will last for about a week.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds skinless chicken or duck legs or thighs (dark meat is better than white meat)
2 onions, roughly diced
2 cups walnuts, finely ground
2 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 teaspoons salt or to taste
black pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoon sugar or to taste
pomegranate arils, fresh dill, or lemon zest (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, brown chicken in olive oil. Remove and reserve on a plate.
2. Add onions to pot and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Add walnuts, stock, and browned chicken. Bring to a boil; simmer covered for 30 minutes.
4. Add pomegranate molasses, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Simmer covered for a further 60 minutes. The sauce will thicken and turn dark brown in color. The meat may come off the bone or you can pull it off the bones as it softens. In either case, discard the bones.
5. Add sugar, if desired, and adjust other seasonings. Simmer for 15 more minutes.
6. Garnish with one or more of the following - pomegranate arils, fresh dill, and lemon zest.
7. Serve with basmati rice (plain, dill or sour cherry) or couscous.