Fesenjoon - Pomegranate Walnut & Chicken Stew


Khoresh-e fesenjoon is one of the most delicious Persian dishes. Biting into a tender piece of a well cooked sweet and sour chicken covered with tangy pomegranate and finely ground walnut sauce is to experience a piece of Persian culture, its food and heritage. In researching pomegranates, its history and its use in our culture, I've learned that it dates back to 3300 BC, here. Fesenjoon is another example of Persian ingenuity in creating a well-balanced and healthy meal. I find the combination of all the ingredients in fesenjoon to be simply genius!

Using fresh ingredients in Persian cooking is key. For many of us who live outside of Iran, finding the required and right ingredients is sometimes a challenge, one that we must learn to adapt to by using substitutes when needed. However, for this dish I believe all the needed ingredients are readily available here in the north east. One thing that I should mention is to use fresh walnuts, if possible. If you buy them readily packed in a bag like I do, at least check to see that the walnut colors are light and not dark. Dark colored and old walnuts taste bitter. Soaking walnuts for a few minutes in water or at least rinsing them before cooking improves the taste. Another key factor is using the right pomegranate concentrate/syrup. It should be of a thick consistency and not watery or mixed in with a sweetener. Don't use pomegranate juice instead.


Fesenjoon doesn't require too many ingredients or prep time. It's a simple dish and it cooks fast. However, if you want to achieve that authentic and ancient recipe what it needs is patience. Khoresh-e fesenjoon has to be cooked on a low temperature/simmer setting for all the tastes to blend in and the walnut oil to be released gradually onto the stew.

Sometimes, I may get a little carried away with my food decorations. I have to say that this dish doesn't need any props. When served with some aromatic white rice, the aroma, the look and above all the taste will speak for itself.


Fesenjoon - Pomegranate Walnut and Chicken Stew

Ingredients:
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed, cut in small chunks
1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
2 cups pomegranate syrup
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of cinnamon 
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Water

Method:
  1. You may chop the walnuts as finely as possible or pulse them a few times in a food processor.
  2. In a small pan add two tablespoons of oil and saute walnuts until lightly toasted for a minute or two over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the pomegranate syrup and 2 cups of water, mix well, cover the pan with lid slightly ajar and simmer for 30- 40 minutes on low heat. 
  4. In a large heavy pot, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat until golden brown, add turmeric and stir well. 
  5. Place the chicken pieces into the pot and cook until golden brown on all sides, add salt, pepper and a small dash of cinnamon. I usually add 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the beginning which later on can be adjusted and a dash of pepper. This is not a hot dish.
  6. Pour the pomegranate walnut mixture into the pot, mix well, add additional water if needed, chicken pieces need to be covered in liquid, bring back to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours. The slow cooked chicken, walnuts and pomegranate sauce will be rich and creamy.
  7. If towards the end you see that it's still watery and not of a thick consistency leave the cover a little ajar, to let the steam and moisture out. Fesenjoon should not be watery. 
  8. Add the sugar at the end. Start by adding 2 tablespoons of sugar, mix well without shredding the chicken. If you like it more sweet then go ahead and add another tablespoon of sugar. Khoresh fesenjoon is a well-balanced, sweet and sour (malas) dish. I, personally, like it more on the sour side. But that's just me. The majority of people that I know like it more sweet than sour. 
Serve hot with aromatic basmati rice. If there are any leftovers, freeze them! Leftovers taste good too.

Enjoy!

56 comments:

  1. Azita, you wont believe me when i say this but i was SO excited when i saw this post!! i saw the photo and immediately started smiling. i love love love this dish. your photos are gorgeous and the recipe is easy to follow. this dish when photographed (as most khoresh dishes) come out dull and awful, but yours is BEAUTIFUL. mmm i want some now...

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  2. Hiya! This looks fabulous! I love your decorations!

    You're totally right - and it didn't occur to me until you've said it - this dish is nutriotionally very very good, what with walnuts, and pomegranate in it... Though I'm not sure whether any of the pomegranate goodness might be lost in producing the paste.

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  3. What a sensational dish,I simply love pomegranates in any food :D

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  4. Dear Azita,

    Thank you for leaving such a nice comment on my blog.....I just looked at your blog and I am VERY IMPRESSED!!! I am printing your torshi recipe to make this weekend!!! So nice to find someone who love Persian food like I do!!

    Sincerely,

    Shannon

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  5. I love it that you use some spices in your version. That really deepens the flavor nicely. And yes, as the others said, your photos of it are lovely. Love the recipe. One of my favorite khorest dishes of all time.

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  6. Oh my gosh Azita, thank you so much for visiting my blog. So I can visited yours.

    I love Iranian food very much, my brother in law is also Iranian and he introduce me to a lot of Iranian dishes. One of then is this Chicken Fahsenjoon. Love it!

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  7. I love this dish so much it makes my mouth water when I read about it! But as you mention, it is not a dish that bears to be made with inferior ingredients!

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  8. I've always wanted to cook fesenjoon and never had a recipe, so thanks for this! I made it last night and it tasted good despite the fact that I didn't see your instruction to grind the walnuts. I realized this half way into cooking the meal. Next time I'll add some sugar because it was tasting pretty sour toward the end of the meal. That probably has something to do with the fact that the walnuts were not ground up enough to soften the sourness.

    I used a pomegranate syrup I bought at a local Lebanese store, made by a company called "Cortas." It is actually called Pomegranate "molasses" but it is thick and seemed to fit your description.

    Maybe you covered this in another post, but what kind of oil do you use for dishes like this?

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  9. Kipp- I'm so glad you tried the fesenjoon recipe. We need to grind the walnuts so the stew becomes more of a creamy texture. And definitely add some sugar because using pomegranate sauce by itself makes it very sour.

    I use the same Lebanese "Cortas" brand for pomegranate syrup too.

    I use olive oil to saute onions for this dish and the oil that sits on top of the stew at the end comes from those crushed walnuts. You may use vegetable oils too. Let me know how it turns out the next time you make it.

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  10. Hi Azita, I love your blog! Especially as I learn more about Middle Eastern cuisine.

    For this recipe, is pomegranate syrup the same as pomegranate molasses? Our would I need to use less of my pom molasses? 1/2 cup seems like a lot!

    As well, do you have any suggestions for making this vegetarian? Chickpeas or lentils, perhaps?

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  11. Janet, thank you! I have never tried pom pomegranate molasses and I don't know how thick it is. Pomegranate molasses, pomegranate syrup and pomegranate concentrated juice are the same and if you feel 1/2 a cup of molasses is too much then reduce the amount and adjust it according to your liking. I suggest using tofu or chickpeas for a vegetarian fesenjoon.

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  12. Azita joon;
    love your Fesenjoon recipe:)
    Thanks!

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  13. Azita,

    Thank you for posting this recipe! I have tried to make this dish before and I can't figure out how much to grind the walnuts. Should I puree them in a blender? They go from a grainy powder to a paste.

    Help!

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  14. Anonymous, grind the walnuts into a fine texture but don't let it turn into a paste!
    Thank you for visiting.
    Best wishes,
    Azita

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  15. do we need 2 cups of grind walnut? or 2 cups of regular walnut?

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  16. Anonymous, we need to grind 2 cups of regular shelled walnuts.

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  17. salaam, what we do...kinda the esfahani way is like fry an onion, until golden, fry the chicken leggs just a little, then add enough water to just cover. Then once it simmers add maybe like 3 TBLSP of pomegranent paste (rob-e anar) to it and maybe a tbslp or sugar and a pinch of salt to get it going...then meanwhile take 1 cup walnuts, maybe a wee bit more and food process them till they are a fine powder. They can go paste-y but fine powder is best. You need the fine ground so they release their oils which makes the dish very very rich and oily and ofcourse yummy! Then once the stew (sofar) is at a low boil and kind of a muddy color, add the walnut powder slowly, stir while you add so it doesnt clump up. Let it resimmer, it'll become a dark blonde color. Now, what I do is after say 10min of this, I stand beside the pot with the rob-e anar in 1 hand and sugar in the other and ofcourse a spoon and I slowly taste and add more robe anar (pom syrup)...like 1 then 2, then 3 and sometimes 4 tblsp of it. Then let it simmer a bit then add 1-2 tbslp sugar. It needs to be like 75% sour (torshi) and about 25% sweet (shirini) otherwise it'll be too sweet and yucky or too sour and painful to eat! (side effect is nasty mouth sores!) so do this slowly and carefully, just so it suits your taste. When done right and slowly, it'll then thicken up a bit more so its a proper stew-khoresht and will be a dark mahogeny color and the nice touch or sweet and sour.

    personally I never add fruit from a pom to whole walnuts too it, maybe its looks nice, but I feel it'll ruin the whole texture... and ive never seen anyone do it, nor ever done it myself.

    We generally prefer this over kateh style rice, not chelo because the Esfahani style kateh is not cake-like the northern kind but isnt as fluffy as Chelow, its a nice between and tastes the best with a thick stew like this, the fluffy chelow gets lost in the thickness, I think. Ofcourse to each their on.

    en'sha'Allah this helps too! Really its one of the easiest classically Persian dishes there is! Its soooo easy, easier than even gormeh sabzi or gheimeh or anything...when im in a rush, i'd make this first because its quite quick to prepare.

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    1. Thanks so much for the detailed step-by-step instructions.

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  18. Azita,

    I am a horrible cook.... really i am. But you inspire me keep tiring and not give up. I will attempt this dish today! Thanks so much

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    1. Thank you. I hope you give it a try and report back!

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  19. Hi Azita, I had only had Fesenjoon is restaurants and I tried this recipe for the first time. It works great! Thanks for posting. One question though: what are these little red things used for topping on the picture?

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    1. Hi Nico, I'm so glad you liked the recipe! I am also glad you asked this question because these little red things on the fesenjoon are pomegranate seeds and they are never used in the cooking process or even used as a garnish. They were placed there along with chopped walnuts simply to add a little more interest to the otherwise bland image of fesenjoon!

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  20. "6... leave the cover a little ajar"

    Somewhere in step 5 (presumably), there should be instructions about adding a cover in the first place.

    Sorry, I write too many computer programs to let this go ;)

    Anyway, I'm trying to make this right now. Not exactly this recipe, kind of an amalgam of all the top hits in google for this. (E.g., I'm using 8 oz. of pomegranate syrup since the recipes I see range from your 4 oz. to 16 oz., for this amount of chicken.) I'm skeptical of turmeric since it just tastes like sawdust to me, but people have told me it's better mixed with other things. So I'm relying on cinnamon and nutmeg with a small turmeric booster.

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  21. This looks great. I just tried making Fesenjoon for the first time, though with more of a northern iranian recipe that doesn't use sugar, is on the sour side, and doesn't use onions either. also, after getting some advice from iran, we decided to go the mile and cook it for 7 hours until a thick but beautiful layer of natural walnut oil swam up to the top. very very authentic flavour and totally worth the time!

    http://figfondue.blogspot.com/2012/04/khoresht-e-fesenjan-pomegranate-walnut.html

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  22. Salam Azita, chetori.....thankyou so much for this wonderful recipe. My husband is Persian and Im Greek, and this is now my favourite Persian khoresh dish as well as his. Prep time is actually not that bad after all. What type of sugar do you use? White? Raw? etc.

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    1. I use regular white sugar. Thank you!

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  23. Thank you so much for this recipe Azita. Can I use the old school Persian spice instead of cinnamon and tumeric? I know it has both of those but also Cumin, Caraway, Cardamom, Coriander, cloves, and nutmeg. It always adds that Persian spice house smell to some of my food and I love that but is it appropriate to use for fesenjoon? Thanks again for this great recipe, I've been looking for one for a long time and hadn't found anything that seemed as original as this.

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    1. Arzhang, I use a small amount of turmeric powder and a pinch of cinnamon to get rid of the strong smell from the chicken. Fesenjoon is not a spicy dish and adding the advieh (Iranian allspice) will change the flavor. Thank you.

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  24. Beautiful. I love this dish and your blog. I never had it with Cinnamon though. Wouldn't it change the taste?
    I make a different version of fesenjaan that is shomali and is called Anaar avij. It has parsley and cilantro in it, but the rest is the same.
    You can read it here on my blog. http://sweetlemonandsalt.blogspot.com/2012/11/anaar-avij-recipe.html?utm_source=BP_recent

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  25. Grind the walnuts? I thought you said to chop they in small pieces.... I hope the recipe is good... it is still cooking... Beautiful website...

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    1. Eric, You may chop the walnuts as finely as possible or pulse them a few times in a food processor. Thank you!

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  26. Azita! Fesenjoon is one of my husband's favorite foods and I have quickly developed a love for it too. I prepared this dish for my husband when my mother-in-law was out of town and he didn't have too much faith. I've been told by many of my Iranian friends this is one of the best fesenjoon dishes they've ever tasted. Not too sweet, not too sour. Thank you so much for sharing and helping this American girl be a better زن ایرانی

    My tahdig leaves much to be desired however. One day ;)

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    1. Thank you so much Laura jan! !نوش جان

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  27. For a number if years I have been really interested in Indian cuisine but recently thought I would like to branch out into something different. During the decision process I recalled when my late sister lived in Abadan some years back and the wonderful wonderful meals I had when I visited her - some she cooked herself and some were in friends' houses. Your website is evocative of those times and those wonderful meals and I can't wait to get started on your Fesenjoon and have bought in the Pomegranate molasses which thankfully is available in Ireland. I intend working my way through many of your recipes. Thank you for bringing back such pleasant memories of my late sister

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    1. Nuala, thank you very much for your lovely words and I'm so glad you are going to try my fesenjoon recipe.

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  28. Salam Azita jan, have just cooked fesenjoon with ur recipe and it came out kheyli khoshmazde. Hope my Iranian hubby likes it too. Thank you so much for this and other of your recipes and this beautiful blog. Khaste nabashid, dastetun dard nakone.
    Sevinj

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  29. I have been looking for the right fesenjoon for a while, and this one is the BEST ONE! My search is officially over! Only additions I made were adding a tad bit more salt and pomegranate syrup at the very end after it was finished cooking.

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the recipe.

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  30. Looks amazing... This was the main dish at a London soup kitchen, where I volunteered yesterday. However, would it be possible to make a vegetarian version without nuts (I am allergic to all except almonds).

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    1. Tehmina, it's been over a year so perhaps you've figured this out, but according to my Iranian friends, you can use almonds (or even hazelnuts if you weren't allergic). To make it vegetarian, use butternut squash, cubed and browned instead of the chicken. Eggplant also works well in this dish.

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  31. I've heard of this dish, watching fantastic BBC documentary "Taste of Iran"and was very happy to find easy-to-follow recipe on your blog. It's fantastic Autumn dish-warming, but at the same time sweet, sour and crispy. Thank you very much for sharing:-)liliu

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  32. I tried your recipe for this khoresh. For sure it was different that I used to have in my childhood. I liked this kind as well.
    Thank you for sharing.

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  33. Thank you Azita for this recipe! I made this Persian dish last year and now I'm making it again :) Since I'm vegetarian I have used Butler Soy Curls as a substitute for the chicken. I know that eggplant would be great in this too.

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  34. Hi, whats the recipe for Pom Syrup? Is it 2 cups juice+1 cup sugar cooked till it reduces to 1 cup?

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    1. Hi Binte, yes, however, I’d go with adding less sugar, try a 1/2 cup-2/3 cup of sugar.

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  35. Sorry, forgot to say that i LOVE your blog!!!

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  36. I recently made fesenjoon using a crockpot overnight. I think it turned out great! I basically used all the ingredients from this recipe and modified the method - so thanks! Just thought I'd share. It always seems like such a process to cook the walnuts low and slow until the oil renders. I pulsed the walnuts until fine in a food processor, added water, spices, chicken stock, an onion and a carrot before letting it cook. I added cubed chicken in the morning and had authentic rub-e-anar my grandmother sent back and added it at the very end right before lunch.

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  37. There is a local variant from Kerman whereby walnuts are replaced with pistachios. I haven't tried it yet personally but I am convinced it will be delicious and a huge hit at your next dinner party scoring 10 out of 10 on originality.

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  38. Thank you for inspiring me as I slightly adapted this recipe for a Persian Feast party I hosted recently! WONDERFUL! I have shared the photo via Facebook...

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  39. Greetings! What kind of side dish, if any, would be served with this (aside from rice)? Thank you!

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    1. Hi, you can serve salad shirazi, mast o khiar and sabzi khordan.

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  40. Hi, I just discovered your blog when looking for a use for quinces. The quince stew was great. I am looking at this recipe for my next experiment....but I have a question - if you are cooking chunks of boneless chicken breast, won't they be done after 30 minutes. Won't they get overcooked?

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    1. Deborah, fesenjoon needs to cook low and slow and for a long time for the uniform consistency and desired color and flavor.

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