by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
I love Persian culture and their delicious food, but unfortunately I’ve never been to that area . . . yet.
However, to my surprise, a couple of months ago, a new, cute Persian restaurant opened very close to my house in Borgo Albizi (yes, the street has the name of the most ferocious enemies of the Medici!) The restaurant is called “Zafaran,” and I simply adore it!
The owners of “Zafaran” are from Iran, and they cook wonderful, traditional food, very healthy and yummy. They prepared a special succulent dish with sweet and sour notes, so incredibly gentle and tasteful that I want to share it with you.
Pomegranates are still in season—red ripe, hanging on the trees with their magnificent, vibrant color, and I think this dish is the perfect recipe to celebrate the gorgeous pomegranate:
Fesenjun—chicken stew with walnut and pomegranate sauce.
Pomegranates are rich in the antioxidants and vitamins so important to our health. Persian cooking is always based on the “good energy” of the ingredients. Every dish is designed for the perfect balance of the essential “hot & cold” ingredients needed for good health. “Hot & cold” does not refer to the temperature of the dish, but to the effects of the different foods on our metabolism. This rich, tangy, and nutty stew is an example of the perfect balance of ancient Iranian medicinal beliefs.
Pomegranates are also a symbol of prosperity in ancient Persian art, where this fruit is often represented. This recipe, Fesenjun stew, is also iconic. When archaeologists were working on the ruins of Persepolis, they found stone tablets inscribed with a list of some of the pantry staples of that time. The list included the key ingredients of the Fesenjun: walnuts, poultry, and pomegranate preserves.
Fesenjun is served for special occasions such as weddings and for the ancient Zoroastrian festival of Yalda. In the past, they cooked it with duck meat, but chicken is perfect! As usual, when I try something new in a restaurant, I immediately want to replicate it at home, so I made my Fesenjun, and it was easy and delicious! I served it with Persian steamed rice with a dash of saffron. I know you will enjoy it! Baci!
Chicken Stew with Walnut & Pomegranate Sauce
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (you can find it in ethnic markets)
2 cups walnut halves
500 g skinless chicken drumsticks
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbs brown sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and black pepper
Pomegranate arils for garnish
Toast walnuts until golden brown. Let them cool and transfer to a food processor to blend. Set aside.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil and add diced onions. Cook until tender.
In a separate pan over medium heat, cook the chicken in olive oil. Once browned on all sides, add it to the pot with the onions. Salt chicken while it is browning.
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and add pomegranate molasses, brown sugar, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and stir. Add crushed toasted walnuts and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is brown and thick.
Season and serve with Persian rice. Garnish with pomegranate arils.