Fesenjan is a Persian/Iranian dish - slowly stewed chicken sauced in crushed walnuts, pomegranate and aromatic spices tickled the tastebuds of my brain.
spotted on LiveJournal, and reproduced by kind permission of Pat Kight.
1 tbsp olive oil
4 lbs chicken thighs*
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted in a dry skillet and then finely ground
3/4 cup pomegranate syrup **
2 1/2 c. organic chicken stock
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 tsp saffron threads***
Juice of 2 limes
1 medium eggplant****
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used an enameled, cast-iron Dutch oven), heat oil until sizzling. Brown chicken pieces; I did it with the skin on to render off some chicken fat and then stripped off the skin to keep the dish from getting too fatty. You could skin the chicken before browning, but you'll need more oil. Remove chicken pieces to a plate; refrigerate. If necessary, spoon some of the fat out of the pot - you should have a couple of tablespoons remaining.
add onions to the sizzling fat, and cook, stirring, until limp and translucent
add garlic, cinnamon and nutmet; saute, stirring, for another 1-2 minutes.
stir in walnuts, pomegranate syrup, stock, sugar, salt, pepper and saffon (in its liquid).
bring to a low boil; reduce heat and simmer one-half hour.
add chicken pieces; simmer another 60 minutes.
halfway through the cooking time, add the lime juice. Taste, and correct seasoning if necessary. The sauce will thicken and darken, and the oil will begin to render out of the walnuts. If necessary, add more stock to prevent scorching.
at this point, you can remove the dish from the heat, cover and refrigerate overnight. The flavors are even better the next day.
if not - or while reheating slowly if you do - peel and cube eggplant and cut into small dice. Sautee briefly in a little oil, just until it begins to soften. Spoon eggplant on top of the chicken***** and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Stir in cardamom and powder, then cook for five minutes longer.
serve over saffron rice (basmati or jasmine rice cooked per package instructions, with the addition of 1/2 tsp saffron threads, prepared as below).
* I prefer dark meat for stewing, but you can use light. In any case, leave the bones in for added flavor. In Iran, the dish is often made with duck or pheasant.
**Pomegranate syrup (not grenadine!!!) is available from Middle Eastern Grocers, or you can make your own:
Combine 6 cups pomegranate juice, 1 cup fresh lemon juice and 1 cup sugar in a non-reactive pan; heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and it begins to bubble, then reduce heat way down and simmer until reduced to 1 cup (it took about four hours at my lowest burner setting, YMMV). It should be syrupy and tart.
*** Saffron needs to be steeped in liquid to release its full flavor. I like to grind it in a mortar and pestle with a little sugar or salt, depending on the dish, to facilitate grinding. Then steep in hot water while doing the rest of the prep. Add water and all to the recipe.
**** I cooked the dish ahead to this point, and reheated it the next day while preparing the rice and eggplant. Since we had an eggplant-avoidant person at the table, I sauteed the eggplant separately, squeezed half a lime over it and spooned on some of the sauce from the fesenjen while it simmered to tenderness, and then stirred the cardamom in at the end. It was delicious, and a lovely - and surprisingly light - side dish.