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Food is Love

Passport & Plate - Fahim's Fesenjan

Iran | Saturday, 7 March 2015 | 5 photos

For the fesenjan:

5-6 skinless chicken thighs
1 lemon
2 onions, finely chopped or sliced
2 cups walnuts, finely chopped or crushed with mortar
2 tbsps tomato paste
2 cups water or stock
1 cup pomegranate syrup (or, if making yourself, 2 pomegranates, 2 tbsps sugar, ½ squeezed lemon)
salt & pepper
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom

For the rice (tahdig):

1-2 cups rice (depending on amount of people eating)
1 cup Greek/Turkish yoghurt
pinch of saffron
olive oil


How to prepare this recipe
If making the pomegranate syrup yourself:
Place the seeds of two pomegranates in a blender, add a little water and blend. Pour the liquid through a fine strainer to get rid of the seeds.
Boil liquid with sugar and squeezed lemon and turn down heat, allowing it to simmer until the mixture has reduced and has the consistency of syrup.

For the fesenjan:

Marinate the chicken with lemon, salt, and pepper for a few hours. Fry until lightly browned. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large pan and caramelise onions with sugar. Tip: Add a little cinnamon and cardamom.
Add tomato paste and the crushed walnuts, frying them for a few minutes without allowing them to burn.
Add pomegranate syrup and water/stock and cook sauce on low heat for 10 min, then arrange chicken in sauce and cook for 20-30 min.

For the rice (tahdig):
Rinse the rice with cold water.
Boil rice with salted water until it is half-cooked, about 10 min.
Mix yoghurt, salt and saffron with rice.
Coat the bottom of a large pot with oil, place rice inside and pat down so that it covers the entire bottom of the pot. Poke holes into rice with back of a spoon to allow steam to escape.
Cover lid with a towel and place on top of pot. Cook for about 30 min until the bottom of the rice is crispy (this is called tahdig).
When serving, first take out the fluffy part of the rice and then the crispy tahdig, placing it on top of the rice, and finally covering it with fesenjan.


The story behind this recipe
"Just try, go to the population directorate. You never know what you might find," the hotel receptionist in Konya told me. I am grateful that he did. With only my grandfather's name and birthdate, my friends and I found the government building. Twenty minutes and several enthusiastic officials later, I held in my hand a list with his five siblings' names and the address of the house he built. What happened next felt magically surreal: driving down a dusty road in the Turkish countryside, pulling up next to a seemingly deserted yellow house lined with fig trees, an old, wrinkled man coming out, looking surprised. "You're Carolynn."
The trip was actually never about discovering my roots. I was craving time to think and eat well. In Antalya my best friend Hannah joined with her friend Fahim, whom she had picked up in Iran. I immediately took Fahim into my heart: he is a true scavenger who can always find something edible in his surroundings.
The old man, my great uncle, invited my cousin and we spent the day lazily drinking tea and exchanging life stories at the yellow house. Tales abounded of how my cousin used to chase my mom around the yard under the blazing sun. They had heard all about me and seen me in my grandfather's pictures. Suddenly, I had a family in Turkey. That night, Fahim taught me how to cook fesenjan so we could thank them for their hospitality. An Iranian dish was not hard to cook in Turkey; both countries' cuisines use similar ingredients. With the house smelling of sweet pomegranates and walnut shells lying all over the table, my relatives devoured the dish, which we prepared amidst laughter and conversations in the same rustic kitchen my grandfather once prepared his coffee in every morning.
The story does not end happily. A few months later I lost my wallet, and with it the scrap of paper holding my relatives' contact information. Perhaps when my Turkish improves I can repeat my journey, but until then I will have Fahim's fesenjan as a reminder.

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