Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates
Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates (Fesenjan)
Full disclosure, i love to “crash” Church Food Festivals. I have been to numerous Church Food Festivals this year, from Japanese, Greek to Armenian. I subscribe to no particular religion, so it isn’t to help raise funds for the churches, but rather my passion for all things travel, food, music and culture related.
It’s the next best thing to actually traveling to a country, but no visa, passport or suitcases required. I get to interact with the people, listen to their music and sample some of their traditional food.
So, when i saw flyers around my neighborhood for the “St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church Food Festival and Bazaar,” I saw this as another opportunity to “visit” a new country and learn about their food, music and culture. I hopped in my car and was on my way.
Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates (Fesenjan) – Turmeric Chicken
I walked through the church doors, paid my two dollar entrance fee and was soon on the “streets” of Armenia, a country landlocked between Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
As i entered the hall, the first sound I heard was the music from the band, next I saw the food stalls selling everything form Shawarma Sandwiches (beef/lamb pita sandwich) Iman Bayildi (eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic, bell pepper and spices), Pakhlava (filo dough with walnuts, sugar, spices) to Armenian Beer.
After, i carefully selected my Armenian goodies, I scoured the room for a vacant seat, which at first sight, appeared to be none. I soon saw one next to the band, which at that moment, I thought was very serendipitous.
Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates (Fesenjan)
However, i was mistaken, as for the next hour the woman seated next to me, talked and talked, about her. I’m not clear on her name, she really never got around to introductions, but rather started with EVERYTHING else.
She began with where she was born, Lebanon, raised in Armenia and her sister lives in France. And then came the photos, from each decade and all years in between, which were all conveniently located, on her phone.
In one photo in particular, from the 70’s she wore a pair of glasses, which she was especially found of. The glasses had two gold leaf birds embellished on each side, which she carefully pointed out to me, in the photo.
Eventually, the glasses broke, but she kept the gold leaf birds, so she could have them soldered on her next pair of glasses. Which apparently, she never got around to, as they now carefully lay, wrapped in a linen cloth, in a box in her closet, nearly fifty years later.
Pomegranates to make the Pomegranate Molasses and Juice for Fesenjan
The stories just kept rolling in, one after another, never-ending. During this hour, she only asked me one question, while I was seated next to her. Which was when I graciously said, “I really must be going, I have another engagement. ” And the question was, ” did you come her alone?” I was a bit perplexed by the question, as one would think, after an hour, she would have known if someone had come with me. HA.
The moral of the story, select your seat wisely, as you never know who you may be a captive audience for and the hours of stories that lay ahead. And if something is too good to be true (a seat in front of the band), it probably is.
Now for Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates – Fesenjan. It isn’t an Armenian recipe, because honestly, i really didn’t get an opportunity to eat my food. I remember one dish I really enjoyed (from the few bites I had) and hope to make it in the near future. However, this is a recipe from a neighboring country, Iran. It is a hearty, complex, rich stew, with a sauce made from walnuts, called Fesenjan. If you enjoy this dish, here is another dish I made from Iran: Lamb Stew – Ghormeh Sabzi
It doesn’t take much effort to make, but does take time to cook. I made a note in the recipe at which point you can transfer it to a slow-cooker.
Now I give you Chicken Stew with Walnuts and Pomegranates – Fesenjan
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 4 tablespoons oil
- ½ pound walnut halves (about 2 cups)
- 2 to 4 cups water
- 4 pieces of skin on, bone in chicken thighs and legs (you can substitute 2 lbs of skinless chicken breasts or thighs)
- 1 tablespoon of turmeric
- ½ cup pomegranate molasses
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 1 pomegranate, seeded
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Salt to taste
- In a large heavy pot, saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown, Set Aside.
- Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
- Toast the finely chopped walnuts in a heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat for 4-8 minutes or until fragrant.
- OPTIONAL STEP: At this point you can put the walnuts in a slow-cooker and proceed with the below instructions.
- Add the onions and 2 cups of water to the walnuts and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour add more water if the walnut sauce is too thick and continue to cook for 30 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, pat dry the chicken pieces, season with turmeric, salt and pepper. In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat, brown the chicken on each side, until browned on all sides, and transfer to a plate.
- Check the walnut sauce, it should be a deep dark brown color. Add a ½ cup water, if sauce is too thick. Sauce should be a gravy consistency.
- Transfer chicken to walnut sauce, add pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, sugar and salt. Cook for 1 hour.
- Remove from heat. Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning and thickness. Add hot water to thin it out, add more pomegranate molasses for a more sour flavor, add more sugar for a sweeter flavor and additional salt to taste. Personal preference on final flavor.
- Garnish with pomegranate seeds on each plate and serve with rice, couscous, bread, quinoa, or barley.
2. Pomegranate Molasses can be found in middle eastern stores or speciality supermarkets. However you can make your own, which i do. Recipe here:
4 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced by half. It should be the consistency of thick syrup.
3. Most supermarkets carry pomegranate juice.
4. You can make this recipe in a slow-cooker - please follow instructions.
5. Vegetarian Alternative: The walnut sauce is really rich and would be great served over roasted root vegetables, roasted squash or braised kale, collard greens, etc.