With Thanksgiving approaching and guests announcing themselves, I head for the bookcase where my cookbooks tempt me with fabulous titles. I bought several of them while traveling and living in foreign countries. That in itself allows me to reminisce and dream about the journeys that led me to learn about different foods, ingredients and fragrances that linger in the mind.
I choose from among the glossy covers tempting me, the fabulous cookbook by the Iranian born chef, Najmieh Batmanglij, entitled Silk Road Cooking. There, next to a dish of Pilau (rice) infused with pomegranate seeds I am smitten by the sight of two crimson colored pomegranates. The appellation of the word comes from ancient French pomme grenate or crimson apple or more mysterious still, somber red.
Painting by Patrick Flynn
The first time I ever saw this tempting fruit was in a Flemish still life of the seventeenth century. I will always remember that open pomegranate in the forefront of the painting emptying its scarlet seeds and sensuous color onto a white porcelain dish. But it was in the Iranian city of Yazd that I discovered its origins.
I had traveled three hundred miles through a barren landscape to visit the last center of Zoroastrianism and learned that Marco Polo had visited this city on his journey from Italy to China in the thirteenth century. And it was in one of the quaint restaurants along a dusty main street that I first tasted Yazdi Polow , a rice dish from Yazd, with Khoreshe Anar(Pomegranate sauce).
According to Najmieh Batmanglij, “The red pomegranate is native to Iran and the tastiest ones come from Yazd, where it has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years. It is considered the fruit of heaven; in fact, it was probably the real “apple” in the Garden of Eden. The ancients commended it. Among them were King Solomon, who had a pomegranate orchard. And the prophet Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”
That being said, recalling my journey and exotic discoveries in Iran, fills me with sweet nostalgia. And so I will share that extraordinary gustatory experience with my version of Khoreshe Fesenjan (Pomegranate sauce) which may be added to either chicken or turkey for Thanksgiving.
Chicken or Turkey with Pomegranate Sauce
2 ½-3 lb fryer (cut up); 2 cups walnuts (finely chopped); 5 tbsp. shortening
3 ½ cups water; ½ tsp. poultry seasoning; 1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon; ½ tsp. pepper; 2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 large onion (finely chopped); 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice or
2-3 tbsp. pomegranate molasses; 2 tbsp. tomato sauce; 3tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. sugar; 2 whole pomegranates
Wash and prepare the chicken pieces (or turkey breasts) for frying. Sauté the chicken with seasoning in shortening until light brown on all sides. As an alternative method the chicken may be baked in a 350oF oven for 45 minutes instead. Put aside. Sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons butter until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and sauté for a few minutes. Add walnuts to the sautéed onions and sauté over a medium fire for about 5 minutes. Stir constantly and be careful not to burn the walnuts. Add water, seasoning, lemon juice, and pomegranate juice (or pomegranate molasses). Cover and let cook on a low fire for about 35 minutes. Taste the sauce and if you find it a little sour add sugar. Arrange the sautéed chicken in this sauce. Cover and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. Serve rice.
The trick to serving this beautiful dish is to cut the pomegranates into slices . Add some seeds into cooked rice, then place the rice into a mold. When you remove the rice from the mold, the red seeds will add a beautiful touch to the rice crown. Arrange the rest of the pomegranate slices around the rice or use to decorate the chicken or turkey dish.
NOOSHEJAN BON APPETIT