Fesenjoon, or Fesenjān, is one of the richest, most important dishes served in Southern Iraq, especially famous in the two cities of Najaf and Karbala. Fesenjoon, like many other tasty dishes of Iraqi cuisine, is a result of the intermingling of civilizations that historically ruled over this land throughout thousands of years including the ancient Babylonians, Persians, the Abbasid Islamic Caliphate, and the Ottoman Empire. Despite any controversy that may engulf the origin of Fesenjoon as having a heavy Persian influence, this exotic dish is deeply ingrained in Iraqi culture and is often served to honor guests as well as in Ramadan. In fact, Fesenjoon is so important that a woman from Najaf is not considered Najafi if she does not know how to cook it.
The thick stew, Fesenjoon, consists mainly of poultry, walnuts, pomegranate juice and molasses, and saffron. Pomegranate molasses being one of its ingredients, Fesenjoon has a very delicious sweet sour taste. The sourness of pomegranate marries with the richness of walnuts and poultry to render an exotic dish that salivates taste buds and makes mouth water. Fesenjoon is usually served with saffron rice but may also be eaten with bread.
It is usually made with chicken, but some people opt for more gamy ingredients and choose to make it with some types of game bird such as turkey, wild duck, partridge, and francolin. Royalty and nobility that like their dishes to be made with exotic ingredients would eat Fesenjoon with peacock or ostrich meat.
Although the original recipe calls for a dried pomegranate seed infusion along with pomegranate molasses, people find it easier nowadays to use pomegranate molasses by itself. Some Fesenjoon lovers that feel the urge to cook it when they don’t have walnuts in handy simply substitute the ground walnuts with some tahini, although not many people like this variation.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
- 1 (2.5 lbs) chicken, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 onion, cubed
- 3 cups ground walnuts
- 2 cups pomegranate molasses
- 5 cups water
- 4 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Soak the saffron in a quarter cup of warm water.
- In a deep pan, sauté the onion and chicken. Then add the cardamom, turmeric, salt, and then braise with water. Allow to cook for 25 minutes.
- Take the chicken out of the broth, and strain the broth.
- In a separate pan, roast the ground walnuts then add the pomegranate molasses and the strained chicken broth. Mix well and allow to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
- When the mixture changes color and starts to get hints of brown, add the chicken and the saffron infusion to the mixture and allow to cook together for about 25 minutes.
- Serve it hot, preferably along with some saffron rice.
- Some people prefer Fesenjoon with boneless chicken/poultry.
- Pomegranate molasses has an intense sour taste. If the sauce is too sour for you, it can be adjusted by adding couple tablespoons of sugar. Some people, but not many, do this.
- Other nuts can be used alongside walnuts, such as cashews and almonds.
- Garnishing the dish with some pomegranate kernels and/or walnuts will give it a nicer look.