Khoresh’e Fesenjan, a stew, a thick sauce, made from ground walnuts and pomegranate juice or concentrate, traditionally cooked with duck, is one of the oldest recipes of Persian cuisine. It is considered a decadent dish served at celebrations or for very special guests. Also, it is a symbol of well developed recipes, based on the concept of “hot & cold“, a food attribute (not temperature) which goes back millenniums. In this case, pomegranate, which is a ‘cold food’ balances the volume of walnuts, which is a ‘hot food’. As healthy as walnuts are, too much ‘hot food’ may cause skin irritations to some. Too much ‘cold food’ also has side-effects, and balanced by walnuts. Fesenjan, with its elegant sweet-and-sour flavor, is a favorite khoresh of everyone I know!
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 Walnuts (gerdu in Farsi/Persian) originated in Iran, date back as far as 7000 B.C. Walnuts are commonly called ‘Persian’ or ‘English’ walnuts. The English walnut originated from Iran through parts of India and was later brought to America. And then, there is black walnut, which is native to North America, particularly the central Mississippi Valley and Appalachian area. Black walnuts were a staple in diets and lifestyles of both Native Americans and early colonial settlers.
– Today, China is the number one producer of walnuts, followed by Iran and then the USA.
 Pomegranate (anar in Farsi) originated in a region of Iran and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean and northern India. Records mention pomegranate from the
mid-third millennium B.C. (3300 B.C.) onward. It was introduced into Spanish America in the late 16th century and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.
– Before tomatoes, a New World fruit, arrived in the Middle East, pomegranate juice, and vinegar were widely used in many Iranian foods, and are still found in traditional recipes such as fesenjān, and in ash’e anar/pomegranate soup.
– To this date, Iran still holds first place in the world in production of pomegranate.
Khoresh'e Fesenjan ba Morghabi • خورش فسنجان با مرغابی • Walnut and Pomegranate Stew with Duck
Recipe by: Fae’s Twist & Tango (fae-magazine.com)
• 1.1 ~ 1.5 Kg/ 2.5 ~ 3 lb duck, cut in segments (or chicken, beef, lamb cut in large chunks)
. . – 2.4 kg/ 5.3 lb frozen duck after skin & partial bones removed,
. . . yield 1.5 Kg/3 lb meat
. . – chicken meat is more economical – skinless, boneless thigh meat will have the least
. . . hassle and is best… breast meat is fine too, but when overcooked, it shreds
. . – my mother always served fesenjan with meatballs (ground beef kneaded with
. . . grated onion, salt, pepper, turmeric, rolled into walnut size and partially cooked
. . . before added to the stew)
• vegetable oil
• 300 g/ 1 medium-large onion, diced
• 360 g/ 3 cups very finely ground walnuts
• ½ tsp turmeric
• 1 tsp salt
• 650 ml/ 2¾ cups water
• 1 bay-leaf
• 350 ml/ 1½ cups pomegranate concentrate (if using pomegranate molasses, sugar may be added to reduce sourness)
◊ Use flat wooden spatula for all steps.
◊ In a deep, non-stick, medium-large pot (deeper the better to avoid splashes – I used 24cm dia x 18 cm deep/ 9½”x7″), pour and heat 3 Tbsp vegetable oil on medium-high heat, sear all sides of the duck pieces. Take out of the pot and set aside.
◊ In the same pot (keep the fond if not burnt), add more oil if needed to make 3 Tbsp. Sautée diced onion until golden-brown on all edges.
◊ Lower heat to medium. Add ground walnuts to the fried onion, stir and continue to dry sautée for 1 minute (no more), watch not to burn walnut pieces.
◊ Lower heat to medium-low. Sprinkle turmeric, salt, add water, bay-leaf and stir. Put the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes. To avoid coagulation, every 5 minutes (or more often as needed), using the flat wooden spatula, insert from side and push scraping bottom of the pot.
◊ Submerge seared duck pieces. Put on lid and continue simmering for 10 minutes more. Check every 5 minutes to avoid coagulation and scrape bottom of the pot with the wooden spatula.
◊ Add pomegranate concentrate, lift the pot and rotate to mix contents. Lower the heat to low (lower if possible) and simmer the stew for another
1 hour (longer if using chunk beef, until tender).
– Not necessary to add any other spices, including saffron. It really does not make that much difference for this stew and it is waste of your valuable saffron and spices.
– Check every 10 minutes to avoid coagulation. Use the flat wooden spatula to scrape the bottom from one side to the other (don’t stir) to keep meat from falling apart.
– At indication of walnut oil beginning to separate on top, it means the stew is getting ready. If the stew is too watery, this process will take even longer. Turn off heat and let stew sit for 30 minutes. Approximately 4 Tbsp of oil will rise to the top and may be skimmed (walnut oil being healthy, some use the oil for other cooking). Yield 3½ cups sauce without meat.
– Due to its health/energy benefits, traditionally, the oil was never skimmed and was served as is.
– Leave a little bit of the oil on the stew, so it will maintain its consistency and keep the sauce from getting too thick.
◊ Serve in a deep serving bowl/dish. Khoresh is almost always served with Persian rice/ polo.
◊ OPTION: For vegetarian/vegan, skip the meat and add vegan bullion. Some add caramelized, cubed butternut squash to the stew.
~ Noushe jan • نوش جان ~
A few important points in making an outstanding Persian khoresh:
♦ Don’t skimp on oil… use as much as needed for frying/sautéing. Boiling oil also cooks and adds flavor. It can be skimmed off before serving.
♦ Brown/sear onion and meat very well.
♦ Adding 1/16 ~ 1/8 tsp of ground saffron, dissolved in 1 Tbsp hot water, will substantially add to taste. (Skip for fesenjan.)
♦ Don’t use too much water for cooking, just enough to steam and condense. –Simmer on low heat for a long time. This helps flavor fusion of ingredients.
♦ Best if stew is made a day in advance and refrigerated for taste to meld.
♦ Almost all stews can be frozen. Exception: If stew includes potato(es), potato pieces to be removed before freezing.
♦ There are red* stews (using tomato paste) and green* stews (using herbs). Garnishing red stews sparingly with caramelized onion before serving not only further enhances taste but visually enhances the dish.
* Slang: ‘red’ and ‘green’ are used to specify types of stews or mixed rices, using tomato paste (Pomegranate sauce) vs. herbs respectively. This concept also helps host/hostess plan an event menu and serve a balance of reds and greens.
So, what’s cooking in your kitchen?