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Fesenjan – A Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew

11 Nov

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!

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Pumpkin Gnocchi with Spinach and Green Chilli Basil Oil

8 Oct

It’s that time of year again. You know it’s definitely Autumn when you see piles of beautiful squashes at the market and I’m tripping over knobbly pumpkins growing out of the fences at the side of the road as I run past the fields with the dog in the morning.

This is the first of many squash and pumpkin recipes to come and I make no apology for that. Their sweet savoury substantial flesh is a welcome addition to any soup or stew and its versatility and ability to slip seamlessly into the cuisine of any country make it an easy choice for this greedy vegetarian,

Some of my personal favourite and most popular recipes feature  the mighty squash. These Butternut Squash & Chickpea Cakes spiced with Cape Malay flavours are easily my most viewed recipe. This Indian Spiced Smashed Pumpkin is comfort food at its best and this Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake with chocolate ganache is heaven.

So after Africa and India we now set foot back in Europe with a classic Italian recipe served with a green and spiced up version of an Aglio Oglio sauce made with our homegrown green chillis which we are now harvesting for the second time this year.

So, I don’t know how many of you out there have ever made Pumpking Gnocchi before, but I have.  They were a complete disaster, dense, heavy and unappealing. You couldn’t eat more than two or three before feeling like your stomach was about to explode. I tried, obviously. Not a good idea.

That kind of put me off ever trying again but that was two years ago and my skills and knowledge have improved slightly since then. And The Washer Up wanted me to, so here I am.

The mistake I made last time, I now know from watching countless cookery programmes on TV, was adding too much flour to the mix. It’s easily done because you think the mixture is too wet and that it will fall apart in the water when you cook them. Trust me, go easy on the flour, you’ll thank me for it. And so will your stomach.

*Mine were probably slightly under floured this time as you can see from the raw shot above. They look like very soft gnocchi, but this made them so light and fluffy when they were cooked. You didn’t get that “Oh god I’ve eaten a duvet” feeling afterwards. A trick is to cook one first and try it. If it doesn’t hold, add a little more flour to the mix.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Spinach & Green Chilli Basil Oil

Serves 2-3, vegetarian. Adapted from Cranks Recipe Book

  • 375 g peeled, cubed squash or pumpkin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • a pinch chilli flakes
  • salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 190C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the squash cubes on the tray, drizzle over the olive oil, sprinkle with the spices and season with salt & pepper. Toss with you hands so evenly coated and lay out in one layer on the tray. Bake for 15-25 minutes until soft, depending on the size of your cubes.

  • 50-75 g plain flour ( I used white spelt flour)
  • 30 g finely grated parmesan or manchego cheese
  • 1 small spring onion green parts, finely chopped
  •  a handful of basil leaves, finely shredded
  • salt & pepper

Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher then sieve over 50 g flour and mix well. Then add and mix together the parmesan, spring onion and basil and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Using floured hands, shape the mixture into small walnut sized ovalish balls, put on a floured, lined tray, then roll over with a floured fork to make the pattern and store in the fridge until ready to cook.

*See note above about adding a little more flour a bit at a time and doing a test run if unhappy with the consistency. But don’t add too much flour or your cooked gnocchi will be very heavy & dense.

For the sauce:

  • 4 or 5 tbsp olive oil
  • a handful of spinach leaves, chopped
  • a handful of basil leaves, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded & chopped
  • a cup of the hot pasta water (from cooking the gnocchi)
  • shaved parmesan for garnish
  • pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan for garnish

Heat the oil in a  frying pan large enough to hold the gnocchi over a medium heat and add the sliced garlic and chilli. Cook slowly until the garlic is starting to brown (but don’t let it burn) then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi in lots of boiling salted water for about 2 minutes. They will float to the top when they are cooked.  Reserve a teacup full of the hot cooking water, put the garlic oil back on the heat and add about half of the cup of pasta water when hot.Reduce this slightly while the gnocchi cooks and add the chopped spinach and basil to create the sauce. Season with salt & black pepper.

When the gnocchi are cooked and you are ready to serve, heat them up in the same pan as the sauce for a minute or two (you can add the rest of the cup of pasta water if it needs it) and then serve garnished with the shaved parmesan & toasted pine nuts.

Buon Appetito!

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