Okay, now, I know what you’re thinking…
But, IT TASTES SO GOOD! If pomegranates were in season in Israel right now, I would have have decorated this so it didn’t resemble…ahem!…so before I lose you completely, this is every Persian child’s favorite dinner, and you know children are hard to please. It is sweet (from the sugar), tangy (from the pomegranate syrup), nutty from the ground walnuts and the chicken melts in your mouth from cooking for a couple of hours. This is the best Persian dish out there, hands down and it’s served over rice, and with tahdig, which we will get to soon! It’s even better the next day, so make it in advance, if you can. (pronounced: khore-esht-eh fes-en-joon)
As always with Persian food, the taste is in the technique, and this incredible dish was taught to me by my cousin Banafche during a week when we stayed together and she devoted many hours to teaching me different family dishes.
What you need:
1/2 c pomegranate syrup
1/2 c white cane sugar
about 2 cups of water (but you’ll add them slowly over the two hours it cooks)
2 cups walnuts; ground somewhere between a powder and still a little chunky (this measurement is after they’ve been ground; about 4 cups whole)
salt & pepper to taste
4 chicken breasts and/or thighs; you can also use ground beef and make small meatballs (this is traditionally done with duck, but that’s a little intense for me. if it’s not for you, more power to ya)
1 small onion; chopped
1 tsp turmeric
How to do it:
A quick note: this dish freezes very well. When you want to warm it, add a small amount of water and don’t be frightened by the thick green layer that emerges above the meat. It’s the oil from the walnuts and will incorporate into the dish when you reheat it.
We’re going to start by toasting the walnuts over a low flame in a pot, constantly stirring so they don’t burn.
After the walnuts toast for a few minutes, add the pomegranate syrup, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Give it a good stir. This mixture is the key to everything (NO PRESSURE), which is why we’re starting slow on the water. Keep your heat on low and let this cook for about 40 minutes. Keep a close on this mixture, however, because it can burn easily and you will need to add more water when it becomes too thick.
Don’t freak out if you think your mixture isn’t thickening. It will! Patience in Persian cooking, please. During the 45-60 minutes while this mixture is doin’ its thang, you’ll need to use your judgment about adding the water because you are looking for a light-medium sauce (not a paste), something slightly thicker than cream of wheat consistency. You’ll need to add about 2 cups of water total, maybe a little more and maybe a little less during this 45-60 minute process. Whenever the mixture becomes very thick, you’ll need to add about 1/3 c of water and give it a stir. (Scroll down though, because while this is cooking and before it finishes you are going to start with the chicken.)
Bottom line: if the mixture doesn’t show yellow/green walnut oil bubbles, and it’s becoming thick, you’ll need to add a little more water until the mixture is the desired consistency.
How do you know when this mixture is finished? It will tell you. The oil from the walnuts will rise to the top creating greenish/yellow colored bubbles. It doesn’t need to be a ton of oil rising, but as long as it begins to show color, it’s ready. This is exactly what you want as it will give your stew that perfectly rich, nutty flavor. If this hasn’t happened by 45 minutes, keep waiting.
Once the walnut oil has emerged, add a about 1/4 cup water and give the mixture a stir. Don’t be frightened when it turns into a thin yellowish liquid. It will thicken back up and darken in minutes. Also, this is a good moment to stick your finger in and taste it. If it’s too sour, add a little more sugar, and if it’s too sweet, then add a little more pomegranate syrup.
While the sauce is cooking though, heat up oil (a couple tablespoons) over medium heat in a large pan or pot for a couple of minutes. Add the onions and saute until it becomes dark (you don’t want them to show through the stew) and then add the turmeric. Stir a few times and spread the turmeric around. Then add your chicken pieces. Add a little salt and pepper to season, but if you’re using kosher meat, don’t add too much salt since kosher meat is already salted.
Cook for a few minutes and then turn the pieces over.
Turn the heat to as low as your stove goes add about 1/3 a cup of water, and cover the meat. This will cook for another 10 minutes or so.
Pour the pomegranate & walnut sauce over your chicken and onion.
Cover the stew and leave the lid slightly ajar. Let this simmer on low for about 30-40 more minutes, checking back every so often to make sure nothing is burning. When the chicken softens, break it into small, almost shredded pieces with your spatula. This can cook on low heat until your guests arrive, as long as you are checking it and adding water small amounts of water at this point when it thickens too much. Or, turn it off, leave covered and warm up slightly when your guests arrive. Try as best you can not to add too much water though. As listed, about 2 cups only.
Serve over rice and enjoy!