The lively, warm, and rich flavors of pomegranate and walnuts seemed like a perfect way to send winter packing. Koresht fesenjan combines those flavors and more. It’s actually a dish I discovered as an adult. I read about it in a book, “Guests of the Sheik,” did some research, and eventually came up with a version of it that’s pretty traditional, but with a couple of my personal tweaks. It’s become a favorite!
In a stroke of dumb stroke of luck: I recently had everything on hand to make this koresht fesenjan except for the meat (typically chicken or duck is used.) Grinding the walnuts is usually the most tedious part of this recipe for me, so I was thrilled that I had some pre-ground walnuts on hand. I wasn’t in the mood to rush out and buy meat, and anyways, I’m always down with a good vegetarian meal. I remembered butternut squash being part of the recipe in a version of this dish byNajmieh Batmanglij.
Madame Najmieh? She’s kind of the Queen of Persian Cooking, by the way. She literally wrote the book on it. Several, actually. So I figure that if butternut squash is good enough for her, it’s good enough for me! And this would be my chance to finally explore a vegan version of this lovely dish, something I’d been meaning to do.
So in the butternut squash went, along with some leftover sliced mushrooms I had on hand from another night’s salad. (Yes, the mushrooms were my addition, and I admit I felt nervous as I tossed them in. No need. The stew turned out great and the mushrooms absorbed the other flavors beautifully).
This recipe calls for pomegranate syrup or juice. Since pomegranate juice is so popular now and pretty easy to find in supermarkets, you can use that instead of pomegranate syrup. However, pomegranate syrup/molasses is available in some regular grocery stores, and also in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean stores. Another thing: A lot of oil will come to the top of the dish. This is normal and nothing to worry about; it is the oil from the walnuts. And walnut oil is good fat. Anti-inflammatory and great for the heart and the skin, as a matter of fact.
Khoresht Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil of choice
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 pound walnuts, finely ground (shells removed)
1 pound of butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
8-10 ounces of sliced mushrooms (optional)
4 cups pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup pomegranate syrup/molasses diluted in 2 cups of water
1/4 teaspoon saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
Salt, to taste
Honey, agave, or sugar
Optional Spices: Cardamom pod OR 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and/or a pinch of ground allspice
1. Heat the oil in a large pan Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more. Remove onions and mushrooms.
2. Place the ground walnuts in the remaining oil in the frying pan over low heat. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. If using optional spices, add now and allow to cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
3. Return the onion to the frying pan with the walnuts. Stir in the pomegranate juice or diluted pomegranate syrup. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste. If stew tastes too sour, add a little honey or sugar.
4. Serve over basmati rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.