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I flipped through The Saffron Tales, pasting little post-it notes on all the recipes I wanted to try. So many. She had four different variations on tahdig for her Chelow. Have you tried it? Chelow is Persian rice, and tahdig is the crispy layer that cooks in olive oil and butter right against the pan. So good. It’s one of those things that makes lovely manners rather difficult. I flagged all of them, and went back to flipping through the book. Then I saw it – Chelow filled with all sorts of herbs. When we lived in New York, my friend Firoozeh and I would take turns hosting family dinners on weekends, and that’s the rice she always used to spoil us with. Since we’ve moved to Texas, there are about 1600 miles between us. This isn’t a Firoozeh hug, but its as close as I can get without a plane ticket, so I had to make that one. It was perfect. Warm fuzzies all around.
This book is outstanding. It’s one of my very favorites this year. Everything we’ve tried has been absolutely delicious with nice strong flavors. She’s a great teacher with very clear instructions and a very relaxed tone. The recipes are pretty easy, frequently just needing a little time to simmer or chill to really let flavors meld. And to my delight, most of the dishes are at the really healthy end of the spectrum. She has some decadent looking desserts in the back to keep your sweet tooth happy, though.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I’m a massive BBQhead. All of the salads and vegetable dishes in this book go fabulously well with American BBQ!
I’ll tell you all about the dishes we tried, but first I want to share the recipe for Fesenjoon with you. It’s Chicken (or eggplant) with Walnuts and Pomegranates. I’ve tried so many different recipes for Fesenjoon before, but none were anywhere near as wonderful as this. I hope you love it, too!
Excerpted from The Saffron Tales © 2016 by Yasmin Khan. Photography by Shahrzad Darafsheh and Matt Russell. Reproduced by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved,
Chicken with walnuts and pomegranates
This rich and incredibly moreish stew has just three key ingredients, which come together to create a truly sumptuous dish. Fesenjoon is one of the shahs of Persian cuisine and a dish that is often made for special occasions such as weddings. Don’t be put off by the time it needs on the hob. It couldn’t be simpler to make, and once everything is cooking you won’t need to do anything other than let it bubble gently in the background.
The longer you leave the walnuts to cook, the more flavoursome the final stew will be, so feel free to let it simmer away before you add the chicken. Be sure to use fresh walnuts, as old ones can make the dish taste bitter.
Serve with white rice, a Salad Shirazi (page 88) and some crunchy radishes on the side. In place of chicken, you could use duck or butternut squash. I often make a delicious vegetarian version with eggplants, which I’ve included opposite.
- 2 ½ cups walnuts (the fresher the better)
- 5 cups cold water
- 6 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp golpar (optional)
- 1 ¾ chicken thighs, bone-in, skinless
- A handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish
In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they are extremely fine and have the consistency of a smooth paste. Place the ground nuts in a large casserole pot with 4 cups of water and mix well. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, stirring occasionally to stop the walnuts sticking.
Add the remaining cup of water, give the sauce a good stir, then stick the lid back on and leave to simmer for another hour. If the sauce starts looking dry, add some more cold water. You are aiming for a thick, porridge-like consistency.
The sauce should now have thickened and darkened in color. Add the pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper and golpar (if you have some) and stir well. Add the chicken pieces, place the lid on the pot and continue to cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is a glossy, dark chocolate color.
Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust to your preference: to make it a bit sweeter add more sugar, or pomegranate molasses to make it sourer. Cook for a final 10 minutes with the lid off so the sauce thickens around the meat. Sprinkle with a handful of pomegranate seeds before serving.
Follow the recipe above, substituting the chicken with thick slices of grilled eggplant. While the walnut sauce is cooking, take two eggplants and slice them lengthways in half and then into quarters. Brush the slices with a little olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt.
Heat the grill to medium. Place the eggplants under the grill for about 10 minutes, turning once until they are cooked on both sides. Gently add the eggplants to the stew just before serving to warm them up. Take care not to mix them too much when they are in the pot, as they will disintegrate.
My thoughts and pics of the dishes we tried:
1) Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranates – p 170. The recipe is easy-peasy, but requires several hours of simmering, so budget that time. I have made this dish before and it was nowhere near this wonderful. Her recipe is phenomenal! (It’s normally served over rice. We opted for spoons instead.)
2) Persimmon, Goat’s Cheese, and Arugula Salad – p 100. Lovely salad. The tanginess of the goat cheese and nutty walnuts and sunflower seeds are the perfect complement to the gorgeous fall flavor of the persimmons.
3) Apricot and Prune Chicken Stew – p 166. We adored this dish. The chicken is fall-apart tender in a lovely decadent sauce with gorgeous sweet punches from the apricots and prunes.
4) Persian Garden Salad – p 92. This is a wonderful green salad filed with fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
5) Mixed Herb Rice with Baked Salmon – p 158. Amazing dinner. The rice is packed with herbs. It’s so lovely and fluffy with the crispiest crust. The flavors are outstanding.
6) Olives Marinated with Walnuts and Pomegranates – p 56. These are so yummy! I love putting olives out on brunch and hors d’oeuvres platters, and these make it so much more special. Minutes to pull together and then it sits in the fridge for an hour while you get everything else together. Perfect.
7) Spiced Beef with Eggs and Spring Onions – p 186. The kids loved this one. It’s something between an Italian meat sauce and shakshuka. Delicious and nice and relaxing to prepare.
8) Watermelon, Mint, and Feta Salad – p 94. This is so fantastically refreshing! The tangy feta is fab against the sweet watermelon and earthy mint drizzled with olive oil and pops of black pepper.
9) Carrot and Pistachio Salad – p 96. Lovely, quick and filling salad, with a nice blend of sweet, nutty, and crunchy. I used the smaller grating plate on the food processor, but she’s clearly using the larger plate. It’ll be easier to stir if you use the larger plate, too.
10) Shrimp, Cilantro, and Tamarind Stew – p 162. This is a fantastically fragrant and flavorful dish. The aroma of onion, garlic, and cilantro filled the whole house, so I didn’t need to call the kids to dinner. I’m used to cilantro added as a raw accent at the end. The flavor changes quite a bit with simmering.
11) Onion and Fenugreek Soup – p 116. We loved this. It’s a very earthy soup with some spicy notes in the background.
Some others I have flagged to try: Date, Almond, and Tahini Energy Balls – p 35 * Date and Cinnamon Omelette – p 36 * Baked Eggs with Spinach and Sumac – p 39 * Carrot, Cardamom, and Rose Water Jam – p 45 * Mixed Herb Platter – p 54 * Easy Naan Bread – p 59 * Yogurt with Beets and Mint – p 62 * Burnt Eggplant and Walnut Dip – p 67 * Mixed Herb Kuku – p 72 * Saffron, Potato, and Barberry Kuku – p 76 * Herby Baked Falafels with a Fennel Watercress Salad – p 79 * Salad Shirazi – p 88 * Red Cabbage, Beet, and Date Salad – p 99 * Pistachio Soup – p 126 * Persian Rice (4 variations on tahdig!!!) – p 136 *Stuffed Eggplants – p 146 * Gilaki Herb Stew – p 152 * Bandari Fishcakes with a Tamarind and Date Sauce – p 155 * Lime and Saffron Chicken Kebabs – p 164 * Dr. Asap’s Juicy Lamb Kebabs – p 182 * Persian Love Cake – p 196 * Yogurt Cake with Poached Figs – p 203 * Rhubarb and Cardamom Cheesecake – p 204 * Apricot and Pistachio Tart with Orange Blossom Cream – p 208 * Cardamom Crème Caramel – p 212 * Saffron, Rose Water, and Pistachio Ice Cream – p 213