It is prepared with great care for special occasions, made with syrupy sauces from juices of fruits such as pomegranates. Pomegranates are found throughout the Middle East; Persians have used the wood of the pomegranate tree for fuel, the bark for tannic acid, and the roots for medicine; the juice is used for dyes; the silhouette of the fruit is used for carpet and fabric designs; and the pomegranate is a symbol used in poetry. The following recipe combines stewed chicken with syrupy pomegranate juice. Enjoy this dish on top of the delicious rice dish of your choice. Classic chelo rice would work beautifully.
Food in Iran is a fundamental part of Iranian heritage. Their ingredients reflect the geography of Iran, while the savor and colors accent the aesthetic tastes of Iranians. The cuisines are associated with so many social events -births, weddings, funerals; and many other ceremonies and rituals- that culinary traditions are intertwined with a country’s history and religion.
Iranian food is a very important and integral part of Iranians’ life and culture, so important that its ingredients are very frequently used as metaphors for describing beauty. For example: “Moon-faced beauties have almond-shaped eyes, peachy complexions, pistachio-like mouths, pomegranate colored lips, hazelnut-like noses, red apple cheeks, and lemon-like breasts.”
Khoresht Fesenjaan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew
Note: 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 grocery stores, and also in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean stores. 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.
Tip: “Chicken, onions, finely processed walnuts, and pomegranate juice are simmered to perfection. The sauce should be as thick as a good chili. Serve with saffron steamed basmati rice.”
2 tablespoons olive oil, ghee, butter, or neutral cooking oil of choice
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 pound boneless-in chicken thighs, legs, and/or breasts, skin removed
1/2 pound walnuts, finely ground (shells removed)
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
Cardamom pod (optional) OR 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and/or a pinch of ground allspice (optional)
1. Heat the fat in a large pan Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove onions.
2. Salt chicken. Add chicken and brown on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove from pan, and set aside.
3. Place the ground walnuts in the remaining oil in the frying pan. Cook and stir over low heat 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
4. Return the onion and chicken to the frying pan with the walnuts. Stir in the pomegranate juice or diluted pomegranate syrup. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear. (You can simmer longer to deepen the flavor, adding water as necessary so the pan doesn’t dry out).
5. Adjust seasoning to taste. If stew tastes too sour, add a little honey or sugar and simmer a bit longer. Serve over basmati rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
On the thirteenth day of the new year, which also marks the end of the Norooz holiday break for the students, families leave their houses and head for the outdoors where they eat, play games, and celebrate a happy and healthy holiday season.
This tradition is called Seezdah Bedar (seezdah means thirteen) which in English translates to “getting rid of thirteen”. This fun and exciting outing involves all family members and is intended to end the holiday season on a relaxing and positive note. The concept of avoiding the number thirteen is mainly to symbolize the will and power to deal with all evil in the new year.
An interesting ritual performed at the end of the picnic day is to throw away the Sabzee from the Norooz Haft Seen table. The sabzee is supposed to have collected all the sickness, pain and ill fate hiding on the path of the family throughout the coming year! Touching someone else’s sabzee on this thirteenth day or bringing it home is, therefore, not a good idea and may result in inviting their pain and hardship to oneself.
Another meaningful ritual performed with the dumping of the sabzee is that young single women tie the sabzee leaves prior to discarding it, symbolizing the wish to be tied in a marriage by the Seezdah Bedar of the following year!