Fesenjoon is a Persian stew made with ground walnuts and pomegranates. Also pronounced, fesenjan, it can be made with chicken or duck, or you can leave the meat out and keep it vegan.
If you didn’t know, it’s pomegranate season. I mean, HALLELUJAH! IT’S POMEGRANATE SEASON! And if you have been following me on Instagram, then you know that we have been seeding pomegranates by the dozen in our house.
My kids are thrilled because they are inhaling a bowl of pomegranate seeds every single day. I’m a happy mom because I know they are getting a fantastic dose of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants that is bursting within this bejeweled fruit.
Middle-easterners have always loved their pomegranates. They are used in all aspects of cooking. It’s taken some time, but I’m happy to see Westerners enjoy this stunning fruit. Give a kid a bowl of pomegranate seeds and see their faces light up!
What is fesenjoon?
Khoresh Fesenjan is a very popular Persian stew that stands out amongst all of the stews that come from Iran. Unlike many other Persian stews, fesenjoon is not tomato based. The main part of the stew is made with crushed walnuts, onions and pomegranate concentrate.
You can serve fesenjoon with just this base and keep it vegetarian. But usually, it is served with duck, chicken or even meatballs. Since duck meat is hard to find in the US, we usually use chicken. The stew is served on a bed of white basmati rice. But because of its rich nutty flavor, it is equally delicious with brown basmati rice.
Pomegranate concentrate vs syrup vs molasses
Some people use these words interchangeably, but there is a big difference between pomegranate concentrate, pomegranate syrup and pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate concentrate is basically pomegranate juice that has been reduced to a thick, syrup-like consistency, about 50% reduction in volume. There is no sugar added to pomegranate concentrate.
Pomegranate syrup is pomegranate juice mixed in with sugar and then slowly reduced down into a syrup consistency. Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate syrup that has been reduced and thickened even more.
I prefer to use pomegranate concentrate in my cooking, so I can control the amount of sugar in my recipes. I do not like having my meals be sugary sweet, so I like a little tartness when using pomegranates. If you are using pomegranate concentrate for this recipe, do not add the additional sugar. Taste the dish first and add more if you prefer a sweeter dish.
Whichever you pomegranate flavoring you do use, either can be purchased as is or you can make it at home. Pomegranate concentrate is just pomegranate juice that has been reduced down by 50%. My friend Beth, at OMG Yummy, has great instructions for making your own pomegranate molasses here.
How to make fesenjoon
I learned how to make khoresh fesenjan from my husband’s aunt Sholeh. My husband told me that her fesenjoon was the best and told me to learn from her. Sholeh’s secret to making the best tasting fesenjoon is to brown the ground walnut-onion mixture, which makes the base of the stew. And when I say brown the mixture, I mean cook until that mixture turns brown, like roux.
This is done slowly because you do NOT want to burn the walnuts. If you do it will taste horrible and you will have to throw it away and start again. Also, make sure you use fresh walnuts and not stale walnuts. Stale walnuts have a bitter aftertaste and can ruin your stew.
Most other fesenjan recipes do require this browning step. They simply add the walnut paste directly into the stew with the rest of the ingredients. But I promise you that your fesenjoon will taste 100x better by doing this extra step. So be patient, it is so worth the wait. This dish is rich and so full of amazing flavors.
Once the walnut mixture is browned, you add in the saffron and pomegranate concentrate. Now here is where some people disagree with me. Again, I prefer to use straight up pomegranate concentrate, without any added sugar.
It is more tart than pomegranate syrup or molasses, which does contain sugar and has, I believe, a more muted pomegranate flavor. I like to control how much sugar is in my meal. I like things minimally sweet, so I only add a couple tablespoons of sugar for this dish.
Once the pomegranate concentrate is mixed in, add in the browned chicken or duck meat. Allow everything to continue cooking together for 20-30 minutes more. Although fresh pomegranate arils are not required for this dish, I like to garnish my fesenjoon with some fresh arils.
Intimidated with seeding a pomegranate? Sure, you can buy packages of pomegranate seeds at the store, but it’s really not that hard to seed a pomegranate. Watch the video above or read detailed instructions here. If you are lucky to enough have a hoard of pomegranates on hand, I also have a great detailed post on how to juice a pomegranate.
Can I freeze fesenjoon?
Fesenjoon is terrific example of a Persian stew that freezes very well. You can make a large batch and freeze it until you are ready to serve it. This helps with any party planning you might need to do in order to work ahead of a big dinner party.
Persian stews taste even better the longer it sits. So even cooking fesenjan a few days before you plan on serving it means that your stew will taste even better. I definitely do not recommend freezing cooking rice. Rice does not hold up well once frozen, thawed and reheated.
- 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp ground saffron
- 1 1/2 cup pomegranate concentrate
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 TBS granulated sugar, if needed
- 3 TBS pomegranate arils
- Purée onions until smooth in a food processor.
- Add in walnuts and purée with the onions.
- Scrape down sides of the bowl and pulse in the food processor until onions and walnuts are completely blended and a thick paste is formed.
- In a large non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat scrape out the walnut-onion mixture and smooth it evenly on to the bottom of the skillet.
- When it starts to brown, stir and remix the paste and smooth it again evenly on to the bottom of the skillet.
- Reduce heat to low and repeat step 5 every 10-15 minutes.
- Cook until walnut-onion mixture is deep brown in color and crumbly, about 2 hours.
- In the mean time, wash and pat dry with paper towels:
- 1 1/2 lb chicken breast, boneless skinless
- Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.
- In a different non-stick skillet heat over medium-high and add olive oil.
- When oil is hot, add seasoned chicken.
- Cook until browned, approximately 5-7 minutes.
- Turn chicken breast over and brown the other side.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, cover skillet and cook until chicken breasts are almost completely done, approximately 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Cut chicken breast into strips.
- Stir saffron and pomegranate concentrate into walnut-onion mixture.
- Add chicken breast strips and simmer until color darkens, about 20 minutes.
- If sauce needs thinning, drizzle in water as needed.
- Different brands of pomegranate concentrate vary in flavor and sweetness. If your pomegranate concentrate is too sour, stir in a little sugar until desired sweetness. If you are using pomegranate molasses, it is already sweetened with sugar, so no additional sugar is needed.
- Pour stew into serving dish.
- Garnish with pomegranate arils.
Serving Suggestions: Serve with basmati rice.
Cooking Tips: You can also shred the chicken and then add it to stew. This is a very rich and filling dish that your guests will love! For a vegetarian version, do not add chicken.
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Serving Size:1 1/2 cups
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 673 Total Fat: 27.7g Saturated Fat: 3.5g Cholesterol: 101mg Sodium: 324mg Carbohydrates: 69.3g Fiber: 2.8g Sugar: 49.4g Protein: 40.6g