New Cooking Frontier: Fesenjan

POMEGRANATE, originally uploaded by JOE M500.

This week’s cooking experiment wasn’t so bold as trying to cook with something I have never used (or that I have to keep alive) to create a dish that I have never eaten before. But it was my first venture into cooking a Persian dish. (Remember my growing up in North-Central Indiana from my last cooking adventure?) Plus, pomegranates sound exotic.

My first taste of fesenjan was at Ahmad’s in the Old Market. It looked awesome on the menu (chicken with pomegranate walnut sauce), and it was. The page in my New York Times Jewish Cookbook with that recipe has been bookmarked for, oh, 3 years or so. And so it was time.

As I walked through the aisles of the grocery store with my pomegranate and other ingredients, images of my face and hands stained with the juice kept flashing in my mind’s eye. The Hollywood horse/bed scene from The Godfather even came to mind – but instead of a horse’s head, it was a giant, half-seeded pomegranate. So I picked up some POM and decided that there was nothing wrong with not ruining my night with juicing a pomegranate. I figured that I balanced it out with authenticity points by hand-juicing a lemon and making basmati rice.

Let me insert a note here: About cooking rice. I didn’t know there were “kinds” of rice until college. (Well, I knew about Uncle Ben’s long grain wild rice and 10-minute white rice. I guess that technically counts as “kinds.”) And despite the fact that I can brine and cook a turkey with insanely delicious apple cider gravy, I CAN NOT for the life of me get around to cooking rice perfectly. I think it’s something to do with my fatal cooking flaw of failing to devote the right amount of concern for my side dishes. What usually results from that is a failure to re-read the recipe exactly and do something like bring the rice to boil over high heat instead of medium. You would think Does it really matter? Sometimes, yes.

Though the meal takes more than an hour and a half to prep and cook, it’s easy. And if it weren’t so easy, it would be well-worth the effort. Basically, you poach some (bone-in) chicken breasts with some seasoning (in this recipe, celery, dried thyme and parsley sprigs – I’m going to try some other spices next time to see what happens) in one pot while you start sauteing a couple of chopped onions in a ton of butter in another pot. Add a little tomato sauce, then a little later a few cups of finely ground walnuts (which you cook over low heat, I’m guessing until fragrant?), then some water, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, salt and sugar. Then cook it forever. Or 40 minutes. Toss in skinned, boned and cut-up poached chicken for 20 minutes, and Viola! You have a super-easy (and super-delicious) fesenjan.

Verdict: It looks kind of icky (hence a photo of a pomegranate rather than a bowl of fesenjan), but smells and tastes amazing. Give me a call when you want me to make some for you.


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