This vegan Fesenjan (Walnut & Pomegranate Stew) is my all time favourite Persian meal. Toasted, nutty walnuts with tangy pomegranate molasses – what more could you ask for in a stew?
Not sure if I have mentioned this before but I am half Persian. My Dad is from Iran and my mum from Ireland. Although I haven’t grown up with my Dad since I was 6, I have always tried to keep ties to my Persian heritage. The Iranian people are some of the warmest, most intelligent and generous that I’ve ever met. Although I have never been to Iran, I would absolutely love to go one day. With my Dad if possible.
I actually used to speak fluent Farsi until I was 7 or 8 and losing it is one of my biggest regrets. I’ve often enrolled in classes to learn again but life gets in the way you know? And I always seem to be doing one more thing than I can realistically achieve. Okay…. maybe two or three at times.
With family all over the world, I have always made the effort to stay in contact or visit when possible. As the years pass this becomes harder but I am looking forward to having most of my family come to my wedding next year.
Although I never re-mastered the language, I have recently taken a keen interest in Persian cooking. Their food is filled with exotic spices, fresh herbs & rich flavours. My favourite dish of all time is Fesenjan (pronounced fessenjoon) which is a walnut & pomegranate stew traditionally made with chicken or beef.
Because I’ve been avoiding animal products as much as possible, I decided to try a vegetarian version. When cooking this dish with my ame (aunty in Persian) years ago, she added pumpkin, saying it added a creamy texture and richer flavour. I decided to use pumpkin and eggplant as the basis for the vegetarian version, which worked perfectly.
To make this dish, first you toast the walnuts then grind them up in a food processor. Toasting them first gives them a rich and nutty (dahhh!) flavour. The sweet tartness of the pomegranate molasses marries well with the creamy pumpkin and soft eggplant. It’s like a party in your mouth and all your friends are invited.
Could I be lamer? Wait and see.
Although it does take just under an hour to prepare, this dish is actually very easy to make. The hardest part being de-seeding the pomegranate. Those tasty suckers are a bit of a handful. So… for those of you that haven’t done this before. Here are some fool proof steps….
Note: Pomegranate stains stuff, so wear old clothes and use a plastic board as the juice will stain the board (I learnt the hard way).
1. Slice the bottom of the pomegranate off.
2. Place the cut side down on the chopping board so it sits evenly. The crown should be on top.
3. With a paring knife, cut a circle around the crown, angle in to try & get under it. Use the end of the knife to lift the crown out.
4. Feel around the pomegranate and you will notice slight ridges, cut along the ridges, just under the skin from bottom to crown. You should cut it 6 times and don’t press too hard otherwise you’ll cut the seeds underneath.
5. Pull open the pomegranate using your fingers, it should open pretty easily. Expose the seeds and over a bowl work your fingers over the seeds to pull them loose into the bowl. It’s rather fiddly but I promise you it’s worth it.
Pretty simple hey?
Now would you look at that? Serve with soft and fluffy rice, sprinkle some fresh pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with fresh parsley and you’ll be in Persian heaven!
Befarma’id! (Bon appétit in Farsi)
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What you need:
- Large saucepan
- Small deep set pan
- Blender/food processor
Ingredients (serves 6):
- 2 cups walnut halves (can use more if you like)
- 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
- Lug of olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- Pinch of nutmeg, freshly ground if possible
- ½ butternut pumpkin
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
- Honey (maple for vegans) to taste
- To serve: Jasmine or brown rice
- To garnish: handful of pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh parsley
1. First up you need to toast the walnuts. Either on a baking sheet in the over or in a shallow pan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant.
2. Once they have cooled down blend in a food processor until broken up and similar to the consistency of oats.
3. If you’re serving with rice, pop it on.
4. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion. Stir until translucent. Add the spices and cook for a few minutes longer.
5. Add the pumpkin and eggplant and stir to coat in the spices. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
6. Reduce heat and add pomegranate molasses, honey and ground walnuts. Simmer for 15-25 minutes or more, until desired thickness is reached. Add more stock or water if you need. Adjust spices to taste.
7. Serve over soft fluffy rice and top with pomegranate seeds and parsley.
Storage: in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Tips: if you can’t find pomegranate molasses at your local Persian grocer, I found it online at Herbies. If you really want to make your own, you can by using pomegranate juice. Pour into a saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt & some lime juice and simmer for 45 minutes until thickened.
What I tell you? It’s amazing no?
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For another hearty & delicious dinner, try my Beef Bourguignon.
Anisa – The Macadames. xx