I am so excited to introduce you to this recipe for fesenjan. This traditional Persian dish is bursting with the best flavors of the region. Tender chicken is combined with chickpeas and onions, then bathed in a sauce made from toasted walnuts, aromatic spices, and pomegranate molasses.
Today’s fesenjan recipe is a sumptuous stew-like dish that perfectly captures the culinary wealth of the region. And the secret is definitely in the sauce with this one! Toasted walnuts give the sauce a rich, earthy nuttiness, while the pomegranate molasses adds the perfect balance of sweetness and tang.
The addition of turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, and black pepper adds subtle spiciness and warmth. The resulting dish is savory, earthy, tangy, and warming. In short, you get a lavishly flavorful and supremely satisfying meal!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Chicken - Your choice of breast meat or bone-in, skin-on thighs. I go with breast meat for its shorter cooking time; either cut is tasty!
- Salt - Kosher salt is best for enhancing flavor without making everything overly salty.
- Oil - Olive oil is a good choice for its mild nutty flavor and somewhat higher smoke point.
- Onions - Gives the dish a fresh, pungent, spicy kick
- Chickpeas - Add an earthy, nutty flavor while making the dish more hearty.
- Cinnamon - Enhances the natural sweetness of other ingredients and adds a sweet, warming touch.
- Walnuts - These form the foundation of the sauce and add bitter, sweet, and nutty flavor.
- Chicken Stock - Adds volume, moisture, and savoriness.
- Spices - Warming aromatic spices such as turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, and black pepper add heat and complexity.
- Pomegranate Molasses - Sometimes also called syrup, this ingredient is fruity and acidic with a blend of sweet and tart. Try the baking aisle at the grocery store (near the corn syrups) but you might need to ask a store associate for help in any Ethnic food section. You can also shop online or at your local international market.
- Garnish - The addition of mint sprigs and pomegranate seeds adds a delightful pop of color and bright, contrasting flavors.
- Rice (for serving)
HOW TO MAKE FESENJAN
1. Saute the Onions. Use a Dutch oven or large skillet to heat the oil over medium high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook the sliced onions until a deep golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate, season with salt, and repeat with remaining onions. Reserve the oil in the pan for the chicken.
2. Toast the Walnuts. Use a separate, dry skillet to carefully toast the walnuts until fragrant. Be sure to not burn them, or your sauce will come out bitter. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
3. Blend Sauce Ingredients. Add the toasted walnuts, chicken stock, turmeric, cumin, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper to a blender. Puree, then set aside.
4. Saute the Chicken. Reheat the skillet with the onion oil over medium high heat and add one more tablespoon of oil. Transfer the chicken to the pan and saute until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.
5. Combine Other Ingredients. Now, sprinkle half of the crispy onion on top of the chicken, followed by the chickpeas and cinnamon stick. Pour the walnut sauce over the layer of chickpeas before drizzling pomegranate molasses over the whole mixture. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and stir well to mix everything thoroughly. Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.
6. Garnish, Serve & Enjoy. Serve with your choice of rice — find suggestions below. Garnish with mint sprigs and sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top. Enjoy!
Where is Fesenjan From?
Fesenjan is a traditional Iranian recipe that has been gracing tables since the time of the Persian Empire (around 500 BC), where it has long been considered a “rich man’s food.” It has origins in the Gilan region of Northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea.
What is Fesenjan Made Of?
In general terms, fesenjan is a stew made with a protein and spiced walnut pomegranate sauce.
Most modern day versions this dish are made with chicken or duck, but you may come across lamb, meatball, or meatless versions. While the protein may vary, the sauce is really what makes this dish what it is.
All versions of a traditional fesenjan recipe contain onions, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses with a variety of warming, aromatic spices.
What To Serve with Fesenjan?
You can really get creative here! While I typically serve my walnut pomegranate chicken with saffron rice, feel free to choose from any of the following alternatives:
- Sabzi Polo Recipe (Persian Herb Rice)
- Lubia Polo (Iranian Rice Dish)
- Persian Crispy Rice Tahdig
- Crispy Tachin Saffron Rice
Fesenjan (Walnut Pomegranate Chicken)
- 1.5 pounds chicken breast chopped (See Note 1)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 yellow onions sliced
- 15 oz chickpeas drained, rinsed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups walnuts toasted
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup pomegranate molasses
- Serve with saffron infused rice or see Note 2
- Garnish- mint sprig and pomegranate seeds
- Heat the oil in a large deep skillet (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Cook sliced onion in 2 batches for 4 to 5 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Transfer to paper towel lined plate to drain, season with salt. Repeat with remaining onions. Leave remaining oil in pan to cook chicken.
- Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for several minutes and fragrant. Do not burn or sauce will be bitter. Remove from pan and cool.
- In a blender add the toasted walnuts, chicken stock, turmeric, cumin, salt, nutmeg and black pepper. Puree until blended. Set aside.
- Heat large deep skillet (or Dutch oven) over medium-high heat with oil from onions and add 1 tablespoon oil. Transfer chicken to pan, saute for 5 minutes, or until golden in color on all sides.
- Scatter half the crispy onions on top of chicken, layer the chickpeas and cinnamon stick on top of onions. Pour the walnut sauce on top of chickpeas and drizzle the pomegranate molasses all over the top. Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes (20 minutes if using chicken thighs). Remove lid and stir through to mix everything. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Serve with Fesenjan spooned over rice of choice (See Note 2) and pomegranate seeds on top.
- I use chicken breast meat because it has a lesser cook time. Feel free to use chicken thighs, skin on, bone in if preferred. Cook over medium heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove lid, turn chicken and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Rice suggestions: steamed saffron basmati rice, Sabzi Polo, Lubia Polo, Rice with Tahdig or Tachin.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.