When we were in North Carolina earlier this month, our friend Emily took us out to an amazing restaurant that featured an all vegetarian menu. She and her boyfriend Aaron highly recommended the fesenjan – a thick Persian stew made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. My experiences with Persian food has, admittedly, been limited to the few times in college when another close friend of mine and Emily’s, Gitta, had opportunity to express her Persian heritage. She did so by getting her hands on ingredients enough to make actual food (not ramen, or spaghetti, or cereal, or any of the other economical items we were so accustomed to eating) in any of the meager kitchens in the places we called home during our days at Oberlin. Persian food is not a well represented cuisine on Maui, so Dan and I decided to order a bowl of fesenjan knowing that it may be a while before we again have the opportunity to do so. After it arrived to much lip smacking and oohing and ahhing, we finally came up for air and declared it to be delicious.
The next day as I continued to talk about how good it was (I can’t help it – a good meal can create conversation material for me for days, though it might be unfortunately limited to exclamations about how delicious it was) Emily challenged me to replicate the dish in my own kitchen. I can appreciate a good challenge.
Back on Maui, I research fesenjan and learned that it is often paired with chicken or duck. I had a difficult time finding a version online that did not contain meat. I could easily have omitted the meat from any of the recipes I found but I decided to be a bit more adventurous. Though the fesenjan I had in North Carolina did not contain any faux meat, I decided to add seitan to mine. I used this recipe for guidance as I adapted it to suit my tastes, and I used the simple seitan recipe from Veganomicon. Instead of simmering the seitan in broth I added the raw dough directed to the fesenjan pot and let it cook in the juices of the stew. I was so, so pleased with how this turned out – it was delicious, and it tasted even better the next day for lunch. We enjoyed ours over brown rice. Dan declared it to taste just like the restaurant version, though, admittedly, having only tried it once I am not sure we can be taken as expert opinions on this one. We really loved this, and if anyone out there knows a thing or two about fesenjan I would really enjoy hearing your opinion as to the “authenticity” of my version.
I highly recommend this dish for any holiday menu you may be creating. The flavors of pomegranate, walnuts, nutmeg, and cinnamon are perfect for this time of year. Be sure to not skimp on cooking time – the fesenjan starts out thin but, as the walnuts release their oils during the cooking process, it will thicken up.
1/8 cup olive oil
2 small onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 ½ cups walnuts, finely ground
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 tbsp agave
½ tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 generous pinch saffron, crushed
4 tbsp lime juice
1 batch seitan dough
1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add onions and sauté until golden brown.
2. Add the garlic, cinnamon, and nutmeg and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the walnuts, pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, agave, salt, pepper, and saffron. Bring to a low boil and simmer for 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the seitan dough.
3. Divide the seitan dough into small “nugget” size pieces and add the pieces to the pot. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
4. Stir in the lime juice and simmer for an additional 60 minutes.