I have been wanting to make a vegetarian version of the savoury and sweet Persian celebration dish, Fesanjan for a long time. It is normally made with chicken or lamb but I have used aubergine and sweet potato as the meat replacements. Pumpkin or squash would also be lovely in this or maybe even some meaty mushrooms.
The reason that I have been desperate to make this is because I love pomegranates. There are hundreds of pomegranate trees were we walk with the dog and The Washer Up is always screaming at me to stop taking photos of them, but I can’t.
“Not another bloody picture of a pomegranate” he says ”How many do you need?” he asks impatiently ”You must have thousands already, along with all the pictures of blooming oranges”.
“It’s what I do!” I reply.
This is the perfect dish to showcase the beautiful pomegranates that are plentiful and cheap here at the moment. I use their ruby jewels a lot as a final garnish, like on this Lebanese Lentil Salad where their sweet and sourness pops in your mouth, livens up the whole dish and, of course, they look lovely. I have also topped this Savoury Feta Cheesecake with a generous glistening pile of them for an impressively dramatic but surprisingly easy to prepare dinner party dish.
In this dish though it’s the juice that gets to take a leading role. Traditionally pomegranate molasses (a reduced thickened pomegranate syrup) would be used but I can’t seem to find any here. I used the juice of four pomegranates and some veg stock as the liquid in which the vegetables are cooked. Along with the ground walnuts that thicken the stew while it cooks, these are the two most important ingredients in the recipe. They give it colour, texture and flavour.
You can obviously buy pomegranate juice in a carton if you like, but I wanted to try it with my beloved pomegranates. Juicing a pomegranate is quite a mission but you get used to it. I did most of it on my normal hand orange juicer, bursting any jewels left in the top of the juicer and squishing the juice out with my fingers. I then squeezed what was left in the fruit directly into the pot by hand. I got about 500 ml of juice from four big pomegranates.
Fesanjan – Persian Pomegranate & Walnut Stew Recipe
Serves 4. Vegan, Gluten-free.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 large aubergine 300 g, cut in 1-2 cm cubes
- 1 large sweet potato 400 g, scrubbed, cut into 1-2 cm chunks
- salt & black pepper
- 200 g walnuts, finely ground in a processor plus some chopped for garnish
- the juice of four pomegranates (about 500 ml) reserve some jewels for garnish
- 500 ml stock
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp honey or sugar
- fresh parsley leaves to serve
Heat the oil, in a large pot, over a medium heat and cook the onion with a pinch of salt for about 4 mins until softened, then add the spices, cook for a minute or so (add a splash of stock if it’s dry), then add the ground walnuts, aubergine & sweet potato. Stir to coat in the spices then add the pomegranate juice and stock.
Bring to the boil then lower the heat, partially cover and simmer for 15 mins. Remove the lid then simmer again for 25-30 mins until the sauce is thickened, it shouldn’t be liquidy.
Taste for seasoning, it should be quite sweet and a little sour. Add more salt, lemon or honey/sugar until you are happy. Serve garnished with pomegranate jewels, chopped walnuts and a few parsley leaves. This isn’t authentic but it isn’t the prettiest of dishes otherwise, it’s very brown so the pomegranate seeds brighten it up a bit.
Serve with some plain rice and a herby green salad like the ones we served the lovely Iranian family that we cooked for over the summer. They use herb leaves whole as a salad leaf rather than as a garnish. I topped it with pomegranate seeds obviously, but then I am obsessed. Apparently.
I hope they approve of my vegetarian version of Fesenjan!