1040 GMT October 05, 2022
The dish has originated from northern parts of Iran, Gilan Province, along the Caspian Sea where the sour pomegranate trees grow.
The sauce is rich from ground walnuts and with an unusual sweet-tart flavor from pomegranate molasses. It is a classic Persian dish that deserves to be better known.
The Gilan region is known for its ducks, and so it's no surprise that this dish is sometimes made with duck, according to carolinescooking.com. Chicken is popular, or you can find a meatball version.
The pomegranate molasses which is responsible for the sour and sweet taste of fesenjan is not a common ingredient in supermarkets outside Iran. Pomegranate fruit could be sweet or sour depending on the climate it is growing. This is why pomegranate molasses made out of fresh pomegranates could vary from sour (dark brown) to sweet (light brown) as you move from the northern part of the country to the hotter climates in the south.
Pomegranate in Persian cooking
Some food historians believe pomegranates originated in Iran. They have certainly taken on broad cultural significance in the region, symbolizing immortality and fertility in Persian culture, according to carolinescooking.com. Ancient Greeks apparently considered the pomegranate a royal fruit and it has religious significance in both Islam and Christianity as well.
Every year in mid-autumn, pomegranate festivals are held in most Iranian cities and villages to celebrate the harvest season.
Iranian cuisine uses pomegranate in all forms – the fresh fruit, as juice and as pomegranate syrup or molasses.
Pomegranate molasses, or pomegranate syrup, is made by reducing pomegranate juice down until it is a thick syrup. Pomegranates can vary in how sweet or tart they are.
As a result, how sweet or tart fesenjan is can vary depending on the pomegranate molasses that you use. Some people also prefer it a bit sweeter and may add a little sugar along with the other ingredients if the pomegranate is not as sweet.
Walnuts are also popular in Persian cooking. They used to be traded along the Silk Road route and appear in dishes like salads as well as Persian walnut cookies (nan-e gerduei).
The key to using walnuts in this dish is that you need to cook them long enough to release some of their natural oils. This gives them a more rounded, slightly sweet flavor to balance out the tartness of the pomegranate.
You do need a lot of them for this dish since you grind them and they thicken the stew. As a result, this is not exactly a low-calorie meal, but the slight indulgence is worth it.
You typically serve this with rice, a popular Persian side. Here you might serve steamed white rice, saffron rice, or a more complex Persian rice dish with tahdig (literally means the bottom of the pot, referring to the crispy layer of crusty rice at the bottom of the cooking pot).
Fesenjan may not be as well known in the West, but it can be completely understood why it is so popular in Iranian culture. It is hearty, comforting and with a deliciously different flavor, that's easy to enjoy.