My sister was gifted a “23 and Me” or Ancestry.com (I can’t remember which one) learn-about-your-DNA kit. I honestly thought that was the silliest idea ever since we are 100% Italian. My father was born and raised in Italy and my mother’s four grandparents were all born in Italy. Slam dunk. My sister went through the motions anyway because, why not?
So when she called me after she received her results with a bit of excitement in her voice, it was like life imitating art (i.e. this would play out like one of the commercials.) “You’re not going to believe this,” she said.
“Go on,” I pushed.
“We’re 17 % Middle Eastern!!”
“No way. No! Way!” It all became clear. I knew there was a reason I am OBSESSED with Middle Eastern food!! Who cares if this is a bunch of nonsense. I could now make shawarma with conviction.
The truth is, I don’t have any innate knowledge about making any food other than Italian food. I travel, I explore, I experience and I adapt recipes at home to be what I like, authentic or not. It’s not really important to me if I “nail” the recipe to make it exactly like I had it someplace else. As long as my family and I like it and that it’s doable for me on a regular day, that’s all I care about.
Fesenjan is a Persian chicken stew recipe with a walnut and pomegranate sauce. It is rich and flavorful with sweet and sour undertones. Over a simple steamed basmati rice with a green vegetable on the side, I am in heaven. I first ate it at a non-Middle Eastern restaurant called Farm Stand in neighboring El Segundo. It was the restaurant’s signature dish and I ordered it whenever I went. My friend Naz has an award-winning blog called “Bottom of the Pot,” where she waxes poetic about Persian food and recipes. Naz is the real deal and if you want a true Fesenjan recipe, you can head over there. I present you an Americanized version that can be made with ingredients from the local Whole Foods and that tastes fantastic. Maybe not like Naz’s, but we love it all the same and that’s the important thing.
“You never know if you’re going to like something until you try it” is an expression I use all the time in my kitchen with both my picky son and my adult students. I recently tried a Moink Box for the first time and I was very impressed. You can read up about the inspiring story behind Moink here. The company is both a source for humanely-raised and ethically-sourced meats and fish for the consumer, as well as an outlet for grass-based farmers to sell their proteins. I really struggle with the idea of buying organic meat and poultry from the supermarket when I know it’s from a mega farm. But I also don’t have time to run around visiting local farms as much as I love the idea of that.
Moink boxes are customizable which is key for me since we don’t eat pork or lamb. So I was easily able to swap those out for wild salmon, which is my favorite animal protein. Everything comes frozen, which is awesome for working mamas, like me. No time to run to the grocery store? Pull it out of the freezer. But the most important thing is that all the proteins are grass-fed/pastured/wild, humanely-raised without antibiotics on small farms. You can see the contents of my Moink Box above. I used the chicken in this recipe and I have since then tried the ground beef for tacos and ground salmon for a salmon burger. All top notch! I was thinking that a Moink Box or gift card would be a thoughtful holiday gift for the health-minded carnivores in your life. It’s also perfect for those kicking off a Paleo/Primal/Whole30 eating plan in January (and there are a lot of those!) Shipping is always free and there’s a nice holiday special happening: Everyone who gifts Moink during the holidays will receive $53 in “Moink Moo-la” to spend in January!
- 2 cups walnut pieces
- ¼ cup unrefined cold-pressed olive oil
- 2 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts, patted dry with paper towels and cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 large or 2 small-medium onions, chopped
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 6 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
- Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)
- Toast the walnuts in a
350 degreeoven on a baking sheet until fragrant, 8-10 minutes. Allow to coolslightly. Transfer to a food processor fitted with the metal blade and grind until fine crumbs are formed.
- In a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 1 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add as much chicken as can fit in the pan in one layer without overcrowding. Cook chicken until browned on both sides, but not cooked through. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and repeat with remaining chicken, if there is any.
- Add the chopped onions to the pan and sauté until tender and translucent, about 6 minutes.
- Stir in the reserved ground walnuts, stock
andbrowned chicken pieces. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, lower heat and simmer covered for 20-30 minutes.
- Stir in the pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, cinnamon, turmeric and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer covered for another hour,* stirring occasionally until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened.
- Give the stew a good stir to incorporate any oil at the top and taste for seasoning. Serve over rice and garnish if desired with pomegranate seeds and parsley.