Our Fourth of July 2009 dinner for friends, Kit from LA and Nancy and Bill from Sonoma, was not your usual grilled affair. I felt more inclined to support free and fair elections for the people of Iran than to celebrate the birth of American freedom with burgers and buns. So I planned a dinner around one of the most famous dishes in Persian cuisine: Fesenjan or Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce. We ate the Fesenjan with an herby rice dish and two salads. We started with Hummus and Toasted Pita in the living room over our first glasses of wine and a selection of gorgeous cheeses and finished with a decadent Chocolate-Lime Cheesecake from Nigella Bites. It was a splendid dinner, colorful and delicious.
10 chicken thighs, extra skin and fat removed
3 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon poultry seasonings or za’tar*
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste or 1½ tablespoons of paste and 1½ teaspoons harissa*
2 cups walnuts, very finely chopped.
Note: Use a food processor if you have one. Stop before the walnuts become a paste.
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon smoky hot paprika or regular paprika
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice (Pom brand is very good)
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or molasses*
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish
1. Sauté the chicken in the butter, sprinkling each side with the poultry seasoning or za’tar, salt and pepper, until light brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.
2. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the combined chicken fat and butter. Sauté the onions in the remaining fat until golden brown. Add the tomato paste and/or harissa and sauté for a few minutes. Add the walnuts and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn the walnuts.
3. Add the stock, salt, cinnamon, paprika, lemon juice and pomegranate juice and syrup. Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary and sugar if the sauce is too sour for your taste.
4. Arrange the chicken in the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning. I needed to add more salt and a bit more lemon juice.
5. Decorate with parsley and serve with rice.
**Za’tar, harissa, and pomegranate syrup or molasses are available at Middle Eastern or Persian food stores or delis.
You can make this the day before. Reheat gently before serving and garnish with the parsley.
6-10 servings, depending on appetites
Adapted from Maideh Mazda's In a Persian Kitchen
Rice with Herbs (Sabzi Polow)
Beet and Yogurt Salad or Dip
Parsley, Celery and Herb Salad