One great thing about being married to a Persian man – Persian food! Of course there are many other perks, but since I’m obsessed with food, we’ll focus on that one. A lot of Persian dishes center around a ‘Khoresh,’ or a sort of stew that is served over rice. This can be made with okra, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, etc. This one if quite different from most Khoresh dishes in that it is a stew of walnuts, pomegranate and chicken. Weird, right? It’s amazing. When my mother-in-law first made this dish I fell in love. Now, every time we visit I secretly say a little prayer in hopes that she is going to serve Fessenjoon for dinner. I finally decided it was time for me to learn to make this dish so I didn’t have to rely on her for my culinary happiness. On her last visit we did a Fessenjoon cooking session, and I’m excited to now have the recipe to share with you all! This is a unique dish with a mix of savory and sweet flavors, and it won’t be for everyone’s taste, but I think it’s amazing! Right now, I’m working with leftovers, and I’ve been rationing it out to myself to make sure I don’t run out too fast. It’s that good!
Here’s what you’ll need…
4 C walnuts
3 C water
1 medium onion
2 chicken breast (this can be made with stew beef as well)
1/2 bottle of pomegranate molasses
2-4 tbsp sugar
4 C long grain, basmati rice
1/4 C vegetable oil
1/4 C water
Pinch of ground saffron
***Leave out the chicken and you could easily make this a vegetarian dish!
First off, this is what the pomegranate molasses looks like. It’s a little challenging to find unless your grocery store has a thorough international aisle or unless you have access to a middle eastern market.
Second, this is the best rice to use. As long as you find a long grain, basmati-style rice you should be fine, but we have the best luck with this kind. If it comes in one of these burlap looking bags, you’ve hit the jackpot. And, it’ll last you FOREVER!
Ok, now let’s cook. In a food processor, coarsely ground the walnuts being sure not to overground. If you see the oil from the walnuts surfacing, you’ve gone too far! Dump this into a large sauce pan and add roughly 3 C of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and continue to cook. You’ll be watching this mixture closely over this process and can add more liquid as you see fit. Watch the mixture constantly, stirring often and looking for the walnut sauce to get darker and darker, taking on the color of peanuts.
In a separate sauce pan, add your chopped onion. Take your boneless, skinless chicken breast and cut into about 6-8 pieces per breast. Add this to the onion as well about a 1/2 C of water. Cook this over medium heat until the onions and chicken have released lots of juices and the chicken is just about totally cooked.
As you are watching the walnut mixture, should it get too dry or start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add some of the juice from your onion/chicken mixture to continue to loosen it up. It should stay very fluid, but not as runny as water. Once you start to see the oil from the walnuts surfacing in the saucepan (about 20-30 mins probably), you’re ready to add the pomegranate molasses. Add about 1/2 of your bottle of molasses or until the mixture takes on a dark brown color. Add about 2 tbsp of sugar and taste the sauce to see if it is too tart. The molasses is very tart, so the sugar should even it out. Add more sugar, 1 tbsp at a time until it’s reach a sweeter, yet still tart flavor.
Lastly, add the chicken and onion mixture to the pomegranate/walnut sauce. Reduce heat and let simmer.
While this finishes up, let’s cook the rice. Choose a large sauce pan with a smaller circumference. We use this pot (minus the steamer)…not too wide, but still pretty large.
This is important to be sure you get a good tadeeg on the bottom of your rice (a crispy sheet of rice) while still reserving the majority of your rice to cook regularly and come out fluffy. Your tadeeg will look like this…
Photo credit: Turmeric and Saffron
So yum! So, before you start to cook the rice, be sure to thoroughly rinse it. We put it in a bowl, run water over it, mix around the rice and drain out the water until the water is clear. It will have a milky color in the beginning. Apparently rice is quite dirty!
Once the rice is clean, add to a pot with equal parts water and bring to a boil. It’s key here to pull the rice off the boil before it’s completely cooked. When the grains are soft, but still a little tough in the middle, pull from the stove and strain in a colander.
In a small bowl, combine your oil, water and saffron. Dump this into the same pot you used to boil the rice over high heat. When the mixture starts to bubble and pop, remove half of it and set aside. Drop the strained rice into the pot. Cover with the lid. Watch the rice and when the condensation on the lid starts to bead down the sides, remove the lid. Add the remaining oil/water/saffron liquid evenly over the rice. Take the end of the wooden spoon and create 4-5 holes in the rice (not going all the way to the base of the pot). Cover with the lid, but this time put a paper towel in between the pot and the lid being sure to seal it off, keeping all of the steam inside the pot.
The trick to knowing when Persian rice is ready is an old tradition. Run your hand under some tap water and either flick it onto the sides of the pot, or VERY quickly dab your hand on the side of the pot, making sure water reaches the pot. Once the water VERY quickly evaporates off and there is a clear ‘sizzle’ sound, the rice is ready. Fun, right?
To serve the rice, take the lid off and put your serving dish upside down on the rice pot. Grab the handles of the pot and the serving dish and flip the pot upside down, emptying the rice onto the dish. This way your tadeeg will be on top and will keep the rice completely in place! Divy out the tadeeg, for most people it’s their favorite part!
Now, remove your Fessenjoon from the simmer. Scoop some rice onto your plate and top with the Fessenjoon, being sure to get a couple pieces of chicken. Now eat up!