Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chicken and walnut stew with petimezi, and saffron basmati rice (A different Persian Fesenjan)

There are certain dishes that you fall in love with instantly. It may be a dish you’ve had at a restaurant or at that friend’s house who’s a great cook, a recipe you tried from a blog or cookbook, or even something you created yourself that turned out unexpectedly good. This dish is a mix of the above. It’s one I have tried at a friend’s house years back and that when I found the recipe for in a cookbook I got for my birthday last month, I played around with a few times, adapted it to suit my taste and the result was fantastic. I fell in love with it.

It is a chicken and walnut stew with petimezi (Greek grape molasses/grape-must syrup), and it may not be the best-looking dish you’ll ever come across, but it is seriously delicious. It is everything a stew should be and more; warming and comforting but also exciting and different.

It is based on a traditional Persian recipe named Khoresh-e Fesenjan, or just Fesenjan, which is a chicken and walnut stew with pomegranate molasses. I changed it to suit my Greek tastes by substituting the very tart pomegranate molasses with the sweeter Greek petimezi that has a far more interesting and intricate flavor in my opinion, and in order to counteract that sweetness and to provide sharpness and spiciness, I also added red-wine vinegar, tomato paste, saffron and ground turmeric.

I may be against messing with traditional recipes, and I hope any Persian friends out there don’t hold it against me for playing around with such a beloved recipe of theirs, but this was incredibly good. The Persians eat this at celebrations and weddings and I can totally understand why. It is a marvelous stew.

The walnuts are ground and then cooked in water for an hour until they soften. The petimezi, the chicken and the rest of the ingredients are then added and they slowly simmer for about two hours, until the chicken becomes so tender that it falls apart with the touch of the fork and the walnut sauce takes on a deep, dark color.

I have a bit of a sweet tooth and this savory dish hits all the right spots. It’s a multilayered dish, mainly earthy and nutty from the walnuts, sweet from the petimezi but not overwhelmingly so, with subtle sharp notes from the vinegar. It’s meaty and deep-flavored, with the chicken falling off the bone but without losing its texture, and with the slightly bitter walnuts being thick and pleasantly grainy creating an almost chocolatey sauce.

The metallic flavor of the saffron and the turmeric adds another layer of complexity to the dish while the fresh pomegranate seeds on top provide acidity and crunch. They are not decorative, mind you, they do serve a purpose flavor-wise and texture-wise. The fresh mint that’s sprinkled on top adds freshness and vibrancy to the rich and thick sauce, and all those deep flavors and heady aromas are then paired with a saffron-scented basmati rice to ultimately create an intriguing dish.

P.S. As mentioned in my four previous posts, apart from your votes, there’s a panel of judges at the Greek VIMA Gourmet Food Blog Awards competition, who will judge specific recipes submitted for the competition using sponsors’ ingredients. One of the sponsors is #Knorr. So, this dish is submitted for one of the categories I’m nominated in, “Best Cooking Blog”. If you wish, you can still vote for me here for Best Cooking Blog, here for Best Sweet Treats and here for Best Food Photography & Styling by clicking the “like” button below the Greek text and next to where it says “Like for Vote” in each category. You will make me very happy if you do. Thank you very much for your support!!

Chicken and walnut stew with petimezi (grape molasses), and saffron basmati rice (A different Persian Fesenjan)

This is a chicken and walnut stew meaning that the walnuts are an integral part of the dish and they are as much of a main ingredient as is the chicken; they’re not just the sauce you pour over the meat, so don’t be sparse with the walnut sauce, add it to your plate plentifully.

This stew needs 3 hours of cooking so take it into consideration when you decide to cook it. Also, as with every stew out there, it is at its best flavor the next day and the day after.
This dish is perfect for a holiday/celebratory dinner, and since you can make it a couple of days ahead of time, it will free you up for other dishes you wish to make, chores, etc.

Don’t be tempted to use chicken with the skin on because the stew will be too fatty. The walnuts have enough natural oil to flavor the dish.

If you have any leftover walnut sauce you can serve it with rice, buglur, couscous or quinoa and some steamed or boiled root vegetables.

Yield: 6-8 servings


for the stew (heavily adapted from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour)
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
550 g walnut halves
1.2 liters cold water
1 chicken stock cube
1 heaped Tbsp tomato paste
9 chicken thighs (1.3-1.4 kg), bone-in, skin removed
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 large red onions (260 g net weight), peeled and thinly sliced
1½ Tbsp ground turmeric
450 ml petimezi (Greek grape molasses), make sure it is of good quality
40 ml red-wine vinegar
A good pinch of saffron strands

for the rice
2 cups basmati rice
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
2½ cup boiling water
1 tsp salt
A good pinch of saffron strands

to serve
Pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
Coarsely chopped walnuts (about 70 g)
A handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped

Special equipment: food processor, large (about 6.5 liters capacity) heavy-based pan with lid (I use a Dutch oven)


make the stew
Finely grind the walnuts in a food processor, in batches if your processor is small. Be careful not to over-process them and they become a paste. You want them finely ground but dry.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (like a Dutch oven), add the flour and place over a medium heat. Toast flour, stirring continuously with a wooden spatula, until it turns a light beige color. Add the ground walnuts to the pan and cook stirring continuously for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Add the cold water, the chicken stock cube and the tomato paste and bring the mixture to a simmer. Put the lid on the pan, turn heat down to low and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes in order to soften the walnuts, stirring every 20 minutes and scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure the walnuts don’t stick to it.

While the walnuts are cooking, prepare the chicken. Take the thighs and inspect if there are any rogue little pieces of bone attached to the flesh of the chicken (apart of course from the main thigh-bone in the middle) and remove it with a knife. Also, trim off any fat that is still attached on the meat. Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper and in a large frying pan, add 2 Tbsp of olive oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken thighs, working in batches to avoid over-crowding the pan, and brown them lightly on all sides. Transfer them on a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add 2 more Tbsp of olive oil and when hot add the sliced onions and the turmeric. Sauté the onions until they soften and take on a light brown color, for about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and place the chicken thighs on top of the onions.

Continuing with the walnuts, once they are ready, add the petimezi, the vinegar, the saffron and 1 tsp salt to the pan, stir to mix well, cover the pan and continue to cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Then, add the chicken thighs and the onions and stir. Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes and scraping the bottom of the pan in order to ensure that the walnuts are not sticking to it. You need to be vigilant because they tend to burn easily, so don’t forget to stir, but be careful not to mess too much with the chicken because it will break apart, especially during the last hour of cooking when it’ll be tender. When ready, the mixture should have the rich, dark color of chocolate and the walnut sauce should be thick. Check the seasoning and add more salt if it needs it.

If you don’t serve it the day you cook it, leave it to cool completely in the pan, with the lid ajar, and then transfer it to an airtight container and place it in the fridge for up to 3 days.

make the rice
I always make this rice following the 1:1¼ method of measuring. Which means that for every 1 cup of rice, I add 1¼ cup water. It works perfectly each time for me.

Add the rice to a sieve and place it under cool running water. Rinse the rice until the water runs clean. Leave to dry for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan, add the sunflower oil and heat over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the rice and toast, stirring constantly with a spoon or spatula for 1 minute. Add the boiling water, salt and the saffron and stir well. Bring to the boil and turn heat down to low. Put on the lid and simmer for about 20 minutes. At this point, the rice should be cooked. If you see water still in the pan, boil for longer but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t dry up and catch at the bottom.

Remove from the heat and leave with the lid on for a further 5 minutes. Then, using a fork, fluff up the rice, put the lid on and let it stand for 5-7 minutes, as it will continue to steam.

serve the dish
Serve the rice immediately in individual plates. Top with the stew and sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on top, a few chopped walnuts and some chopped mint.


  1. I have petimezi in my cupboard and am glad to have a recipe now that calls for it! The darkness of the petimezi (vs. the brightness of the pomegranate molasses) is a great change, and I am sure your Persian friends will appreciate the care with which you have created a new version of fesenjan! I wasn't happy with my last fesenjan, and am so glad to have the tip of cooking the walnuts in water to soften them - that is something I didn't do, and I think it would make all the difference. Hope you and S. have a great weekend, Magda!

    1. Hi David! I have lots of recipes on my blog using petimezi. It's a beloved Greek ingredient. Perhaps you'd like to check them out. I would love to hear your feedback if you do try my version of fesenjan. Have a wonderful weekend, friend. x