Fesenjan – welcoming changes

Now I know there has been some time since I last wrote anything here, but that doesn’t mean I quit. A lot has changed during these past months. Some changes have been new and exciting, like getting started in a new university and moving to a new apartment, and some just horrifyingly sad (two of my closest relatives have fallen ill). Life is cruel that way. It gives and it takes.

Changes, good or bad, seem to make me into a tightly-wound adrenaline-filled stress ball that lashes out flames if irritated, or sometimes just for the sake of it. Trying to welcome changes with open arms is to me like hopping into a bath full of freezing water – never. gonna. happen. I resist the whole way down, like a panicked cat holding on to the edges.

But sometimes we’re dipped in that freezing water, whether we want it or not. Resisting it just causes unnecessary splashing and the horrid feeling of drowning. And drowning is what I’ve been feeling these last few weeks. Until now.

Somehow I have to just dive into that water and be comfortable there. There must be a way to morph myself into one of those agile ninja warriors, who’re confidently ready for every sudden curve in this life’s changing current?

Then I got it. Yes. By celebrating my (life-) curves.

Celebrating changes (by feasting of course)

Although happy and wanted changes are often celebrated, it does sound horrible to celebrate a change that is not wanted and sad. But as they say, you have to treat sadness like a honorable guest, even though he’s an unwanted one. It somehow makes sense to me. Some changes are solely influenced by my actions, but some are splashed on top of me like a massively failed ice bucket challenge. Only way to not feel overwhelmed by it all, is to just adjust your reaction – and mine is to FEAST.

And since I’m currently almost drowning with an abominable amount of changes, I shall cook the most extravagant dish I know: Khoresht-e Fesenjan [Fes-en-jhuun]. As Shirin Simmons in her wonderful and elegant cookbook explains: Fesenjan is – “a traditional and aristocratic dish of ancient Persia popular to this day, prepared for honoured guests.”

In short, Fesenjan is a pomegranate and walnut stew, that’s traditionally cooked with duck, chicken or lamb. However in this vegan corner, we shall cook it with a meat substitute. As I want to add that hint of a Nordic twist in my kitchen, I decided to use “nyhtökaura”, or pulled oats, which is a fairly new invention made here in Finland.

The more I research about Fesenjan, the more I’m bewildered by it. It seems to be such an ancient dish, that I can’t find a precise age for it. It’s just ANCIENT, with bold, cursive and every font emphasis you can imagine. Although this stew is prepared all over Iran, it is most popular in Northern parts. (Now please correct me if I’ve got the facts wrong, I’m still learning!)

Cool facts about pomegranate: Pomegranate is an original Persian fruit, that has so many health benefits that it’s almost unbelievable. It can help with joint aches, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, depression, cancer etc – just google it, if you don’t believe. I would. While symbolizing fertility, pomegranates are mentioned in Persian mythology, when the hero Esfandiyar gains invincibility just by eating pomegranate seeds. PLUS please remind me to venture off to Iran when it’s POMEGRANATE FESTIVAL TIME?!!? (too excited for words, fell off the chair when I first read about it)

Energy, vitality, health and all-round INVINCIBILITY is what you gain from pomegranates – so fesenjan will be the perfect dish for me right now.

Okay, so I’ve rambled on, and this has become a huge post.. sorry and thank you, if you’ve read this far. Now for the main thing: the recipe.

  • oil
  • large onion
  • meat substitute
    • nyhtökaura aka pulled oats
    • potatoes
    • tofu
  • walnuts 200 g
  • saffron 1/4 tsp
  • turmeric 1/2 tsp
  • salt and pepper
  • cinnamon 1 tsp
  • pomegranate purée
  • pomegranate juice
  1. Grate the walnuts and carefully roast them
    (they burn quite easily so be extra careful!)
  2. Cut the onion into small pieces and add them to a bigger pot → fry the onions in oil briefly
  3. Bring the heat down and add the gently roasted walnuts with the onions
  4. Add around 4oo ml of water and bring the stew into a simmer
  5. Sprinkle salt, pepper, saffron and turmeric
  6. Add 2 tsp on pomegranate purée
  7. Let it boil until thick texture (around 30-45 min) → add little water, if it gets too thick
  8. This is where you just have to go with your taste: you can add more purée or if the stew tastes too sour add a bit of pomegranate juice.
  9. Add your meat substitute in the very end.

I really like to make this dish by tasting and adding little by little. Sometimes letting it simmer for almost two hours. It all depends on how much time you have and whether you like your stew sweet or sour.

And there you have it:

Life can truly be cruel sometimes. Accepting that and embracing changes with an open heart is really hard. And though cooking and eating may not necessarily make things better, but they sure has heck make life more tasty [- and in the case of Fesenjan, make you invincible!!!]

P.S And just now the sun is shining here in Helsinki! A change in the weather I have been waiting for. My heart is bursting with joy!

  • Simmons, Shirin: A Treasury of Persian Cuisine, The Book Guild Ltd, 2002.