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Pomegranates And Walnuts Transport Me

On bringing Iran into our kitchen

By Julia MarsiglioPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Image of fesenjoon by bonchan on Canva Pro

I close my eyes as I take the first bite. I'd been waiting for this. Fesenjoon—it's the stuff of legends. The silky smooth gravy contrasts with the delicate walnut crumble it envelops. The mouth-feel is impeccable. Texture makes a dish. Flavour complements it. Fesenjoon is the marriage of both. It's perfection.

The chicken is tender and infused with walnut oil and pomegranate molasses. The sweet notes of piaz dagh (onions caramelized to perfection) linger on my tongue as the sweet and sour of pomegranate hits me and subsides. Umami loiters, inspiring my next bite.

Fesenjoon is a symphony—each note carefully practiced—each ingredient masterfully prepared, but in the end, it speaks as if with one voice. That's the magic.

My mother-in-law taught me how to chop the onions.

"The secret to piaz dagh is in the dicing. The onion pieces have to be the exact same size."

She holds up her fingers to show me the correct width. Precision is everything.

The aroma of onions browning in the pan wafts through the house as we sit in the living room taking turns methodically pounding walnuts with our marble mortar and pestle. Time passes on the wings of laughter and shared memories.

Soon we've browned the chicken. It's bone-in chicken thighs, but we've removed the skin. The bone is important: the marrow flavours the stew. We turn the heat down, adding just enough chicken broth to braise the meat—next, a little bit of pomegranate molasses bought from the Iranian grocer down the street and the walnuts, now crumbled into a fine meal. We cover the pot.

Then we wait. The key to Persian khoresh (stew) is a slow-cook. The ingredients have to meld, and like with all good things—this takes time.

We taste it. It needs a little more time, but it's getting close. My mother-in-law puts the rice on. Cooking rice is an art in itself, and she's a master.

When it's just right we freshen up the fesenjoon with a little more pomegranate molasses, cane sugar and salt to taste. I like it a bit sweeter than some, but we serve a bowl of sugar beside the dish, so we can each customize it to our liking. This is traditional.

Served over a bed of rice, fesenjoon doesn't look like much. It's a rich deep brown, which is pleasing. But it's simple. This deception serves to make it even better: the first bite manages to take you by surprise. The flavours are more complex than you imagine. Fesenjoon is shy—it wants to get to know you before showing its true depth.

I've never had the chance to travel to my husband's homeland, but when fesenjoon simmers in our kitchen a piece of me touches Iran. Place and culture intersect, and food evolves from both. Our pomegranate molasses was imported from Iran, and the saffron that colours our rice was picked by Iranians, thread-by-thread. Our table is set from a distant place, a place we all love. A place that is also home.

Fesenjoon was the first Iranian food I tasted and the first I learned to cook. It was what my husband prepared for me the night he proposed. It's held a place on our menu for over a decade now and has featured in our lives as the food of celebration, of promise and of home.

We don't always have to travel to feel a place—for many travel is too expensive or otherwise impossible. Sometimes, if we want to connect to a place—sometimes we just have to cook and to eat. For us, Fesenjoon is one way we connect to Iran, my husband's homeland. It has featured in our lives since we first met, and it is a food I hope everyone tries at least once. It is, after all, an experience of its own.

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About the Creator

Julia Marsiglio

Loss parent. Canadian poet. Fiction and nonfiction writer. Intersectional feminist. Writing on trauma, grief, mental health, marginalization, neurodivergence and more.

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    Julia MarsiglioWritten by Julia Marsiglio

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