I love seeing all the fresh pomegranates this time of year. My Trader Joe’s store has has overflowing bins of them stocked for the last couple of weeks, and it reminded me of a unique and delicious dish I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while now.
Yes, yes, I know it’s not the most photogenic dish, and I hope you’ll look beyond that, but it’s hard to style most brown sauces and stews. The base of this dish combines ground walnuts and pomegranate juice to create a sauce that is rich with a multi-layered sweet and tangy flavor. Think about all those mouthwatering sweet-and-sour flavors most of us love. Usually made with chicken or duck, it’s a classic Persian dish named “fessenjan,” and it has pretty broad appeal. My husband (Scottish bred Southern boy) claims it as one of his favorite meals, served over plain basmati rice with a little plain yogurt on the side.
If you’re a vegetarian, fret not, because there’s also a traditional vegetarian version of fessenjan that uses butternut squash instead of the chicken. Simply substitute an equivalent amount of cubed butternut squash, about 12-16 oz (available peeled and cubed at TJ’s) for the chicken. Brown the squash in the pan with the onions and add to the walnut/pomegranate mixture in the pot as described below.
Buy an extra pomegranate at TJ’s and use the ruby-red jewel-like seeds (called arils) as garnish. The whole aril is edible – the juicy outer pulp as well as the inner hard seed. When I was little I would sit and patiently remove all the arils into a bowl and then eat the whole thing with a spoon. Another trick that I learned from my grandfather is to take a whole pomegranate and roll it firmly on a table or countertop with enough pressure from the palm of your hand to cause the arils inside to burst and release their juice. You’ll hear them popping as you press and roll. The skin of a pomegranate is leathery and thick enough to withstand it. When you feel like you’ve burst as many of the arils inside and the pomegranate feels soft, bite a small hole in the side of the pomegranate and drink up all the juice. My kids LOVE doing this – it’s like nature’s juice box!
For more pomegranate recipes, take a look at our Sparking Pomegranate Cocktail, and as you get ready for Thanksgiving season.
Chicken in Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce
- 1 bag (12 oz) Organic Raw Walnuts
- 1 small (or 1/2 medium) yellow onion, sliced thinly
- 1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 2-3 chicken breasts or 4-6 thighs (bone in or boneless)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 1/3 cups 100% Pomegranate juice (also sold as “Just Pomegranate” juice at TJ’s)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Optional garnish: Pomegranate seeds (removed from the fruit, or available in a container near the refrigerated cut fresh fruit)
- In a food processor, grind the walnuts into a coarse meal (in my food processor, this takes 10-15 seconds).
- Drizzle the chicken breasts with about 1/2 Tbsp oil and sprinkle with salt. Heat the remaining oil in a pan over medium-high heat and add the onions and chicken. Brown chicken for a few minutes on either side, lowering heat if onions start to burn.
- While the chicken is cooking, place the ground walnuts in a pot over medium heat and stir continuously, allowing the walnuts to heat and slightly toast. (No additional oil is necessary since the walnuts have plenty of their own.) Do this until the aroma of the walnuts is released, about 5 minutes.
- Add the pomegranate juice and sugar, stirring until combined well. Don’t worry if the sauce is somewhat mauve colored at first—it will be brown and thick when finished. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low.
- When chicken is nicely browned on both sides (but likely still raw in the middle) add the chicken to the pot and submerge in the sauce. Cover, allowing it to cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every once in
a while to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Allow the onions to remain in the pan over lowest heat to caramelize, removing from the heat once they have done so. Near the end of the cooking time, use a fork and knife to tear each piece of chicken into 3 or 4 smaller pieces and continue to cook in the pot. Taste the sauce and season with more salt if necessary.
- When serving, garnish with the caramelized onions and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Serve over steamed basmati rice.