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Madame Mahsa Travels

Passport & Plate - Fesenjoon (Pomegranate & Walnut Chicken Stew)

Iran | Monday, 2 March 2015 | 5 photos

280g walnuts
2tbs olive oil
1 medium brown onion, diced
2 chicken breasts, diced into small pieces
150ml pomegranate molasses or syrup (available from specialty stores; don’t use juice)
1tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2tbs sugar


How to prepare this recipe
1. Crush the walnuts using a meat mallet or pulse 1-2 times in a food processor. You should end up with very tiny chunks rather than a fine meal.
2. Heat 2tbs olive oil in a large saucepan and add the chicken pieces. Cook on medium heat until golden brown.
3. Add onion to the saucepan and stir until it softens. Reduce to low heat.
4. Add walnuts, cinnamon, salt and pepper to the pan. Stir for 1-2 minutes.
5. Pour 2 cups of water to the mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, place lid and cook for 30 minutes.
6. Pour pomegranate syrup and sugar into the stew, mix well and replace lid. Continue cooking for another 25-30 min. The sauce should gradually thicken and turn a dark brown. The ideal flavour is a perfect blend of sweet and sour. If you find it’s too tangy, adjust the flavour with a little more sugar.
7. Serve over Persian rice.


The story behind this recipe
I've just landed at Tehran airport, at 8pm on a warm September night. I'm hot and sticky, and nervous about meeting relatives for the first time. The sweat dripping from my hairline alerts passers-by that I'm a foreigner who's tied her hijab too tight -- I should've listened to Mum when she was teaching me how to wear a head scarf; instead, I'd learnt how to tie a noose. I look across at my brother with his free-flowing hair, and I curse at him under my breath, merely for being a boy. I'm hungry and sleepy, and I start day dreaming about Mum's Persian cooking. I wonder if Nan's Persian food tastes the same. Later, when we arrive at my grandparents' home, I'm amazed to see the 30 metre Persian rug in the hallway, lined with plates, spoons (the proper utensil for eating Persian rice), and hundreds of Coca Cola drinks in mini glass bottles. Along the middle, there are pots of Persian khoroshts (stews), bowls of aromatic rice, and platters of mouth-watering salads. Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed. The rest of the night becomes a blur of emphatic hugs and kisses from oversized women and hairy-armed men. I try reaching for familiar foods but before I can say, "which relative are you, again?" one of the women pours fesenjoon stew onto my plate. I can't tell what's in it, but fearing that any hesitation will be interpreted as just plain rude, I quickly take my first bite. I taste a delicate balance of sweet and sour flavours, and experience a surprising texture across my tongue. The woman tells me the dish, made up of creamy chicken, which has been slow-cooked in a broth of pomegranate molasses, and perfectly balanced by the crunch of hidden walnut pieces, is reserved only for the most special occasions. Suddenly my senses awaken -- the intense flavours don't just merely satisfy, but sate my foodie appetite. In that moment, I realise I may not be home, but I'm somewhere truly special.

About Me
Last year, I left a promising career in PR and marketing and took out a personal loan, to carve out a new path in food / feature writing and photography. It was a big step to take, especially with no shortage of bills to pay, a recent and unexpected dental surgery, and a University HECS debt. But while everyone else my age was trying to climb up the corporate ladder, I longed to turn my hobby into a career. Ever since that trip to Tehran (described above), where I experienced fesenjoon stew and met my relatives for the first time, I've wanted to travel around and create new memories, which could be connected with stories about food. I started a food blog (www.mamanskitchen.com), where I try and test recipes from my childhood, and I taught myself food styling and photography. Unlike my previous career, there's no promise or allure of 'big money', but I'm not tempted to give up. I'll move back in with my parents (GASP!) if I have to. I hope by now I've been able to convey to you how much this opportunity would mean to me. But if you're still not convinced, let me tell you this: As much as I love fesenjoon stew (the flavours and aromas speak for themselves), it's not the most photogenic meal. Just google 'fesenjoon' images to see what I mean (please do it!). Anyone who can make this stew look appealing in photos, like I have, should be awarded a culinary prize! #justsayin'