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‘Poor Man’s Fesenjoon’ Made in Under 60 Minutes

It’s one of the most beloved dishes in Persian cuisine. And yet few people make it on a regular basis. Why? Because it takes practically an entire day to make! Fesenjoon is classic, yet very time consuming dish, so time-consuming that as a child (and an adult), my grandmother would often come visit from Iran solely to make fesenjoon (and kotlet of course!).

But rest assured, I’ve found a way to make this ultra-classic Persian dish in under 60 minutes. Now, you can take a dish that has been praised for centuries and easily make it a weeknight dinner. I’ll admit that it doesn’t take exactly the same as regular old-fashioned fesenjoon, but my take on it is pretty darn close.

poor mans fesenjoon retouched

The Origins of Fesenjoon

First off, we should probably clear up what Fesenjoon even is. Traditional fesenjoon is a stew made with chicken (although I’ve seen if made with duck, ground beef meatballs, and my grandmother told me as a child they would often eat it with venison). The chicken is braised all day in a stew of ground walnuts, tomato paste, and pomegranate  syrup. Most households originally had to grind the walnuts by hand into a fine powder. Fortunately, you can now go to a Persian/international food store (or Amazon) and find ground walnuts. However, this process is still fairly time consuming. The walnuts need to be cooked for a longggg time. Otherwise, instead of having a beautiful play on sweet and savory, you’ll end up with a giant mouthful of bitterness and a terrible aftertaste.

The flavors of fesenjoon are actually pretty classical from a Middle Eastern perspective. Foods like walnuts and pomegranates were very commonly grown and used in the cuisine. I not a food anthropologist by any means, but I have a feeling that fesenjoon was probably first made from scraps of walnut halves that were broken, couldn’t be sold at the local bazaar, etc.

The Secret to a 60-minute Fesenjoon

Believe it or not, my solution to the whole bitter walnut syndrome was to actually omit the walnuts completely. I will admit that while this dish doesn’t taste completely like fesenjoon, it comes awfully close. And if you’re in a time crunch (who isn’t), I think the small sacrifice in this dish’s authenticity is totally made up for with its amazing flavor! Using almond butter instead of walnuts is a quick and simple way to get that nutty, rich flavor in fesenjoon in a fraction of the time.

Another problem with fesenjoon is that some of the ingredients are hard to come by for the average cook. Where the heck are you going to get pomegranate syrup, right? I know some recipes call for using pomegranate juice, but at 5 dollars for a tiny little jar, even that can come at a hefty price. Besides, most pomegranate juices come from concentrate and are often loaded with added sugar.

The answer? Honey! With the same thick consistency as pomegranate syrup, you’ll get that perfect fesenjoon consistency. And even though honey still has sugar in it like pomegranate juice, you’re most likely use a lot less because honey is so potent. Moreover, honey can be a rich source of minerals and B-vitamins. It’s also readily available at all grocery stores.

Making Your Fesenjoon To Taste

I want to take some time to go into something very important regarding fesenjoon. There are really two versions of the dish: shirin (sweet), and torsh (sour). There really is no wrong or right way. Some people prefer a sauce that’s sweeter, while others prefer a sauce that’s more sour. This version is obviously on the sweeter side, but there are plenty of variations and recipes out there. Play around with the ratio of tomato paste, almond butter, and honey to your liking. The amounts I’ve provided in today’s recipe are merely guidelines—do what works for you!

Also take a moment to check out this sick video on fesenjoon. Ariana Bundy makes it look so easy!

Happy eats everyone! Did you enjoy this recipe?! For more Persian food hacks, try my vegan ghormeh sabzi or my amazing beef kabob (no grill required)!

Print Recipe
Modern Fesenjoon (Paleo and Gluten-Free)
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Mix tomato paste, raw honey, and almond butter. Set aside. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add the chicken and a little water to coat/so the chicken doesn't stick to the pan. Add the spices and continue to cook until chicken is no longer pink. If you had time, let the chicken simmer like this for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Pour the almond butter/tomato paste/honey mixture into the pan and continue to cook on low heat. Stir the mixture frequently to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning. Let this mixture simmer for at least 45 minutes. Keep in mind you might need to adjust the ratio of honey, tomato paste, and almond butter to your taste/preference. The sauce should be sweet, but also have a nutty note in it.
  3. Serve with rice, veggies, or even enjoy on its own as pictured!
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