Vegetarian Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)
This Vegetarian Khoresht Fesenjan with its creamy and thick sweet and sour sauce makes a great and satisfying meatless dinner and it’s an easy, no-fuss Persian khoresht you can make right at home. This stew can be made with meatballs, duck, turkey or chicken. For the chicken version, check the fesenjan recipe I posted few years ago. If you serve this dish to those who have never tried it before, make sure they are not allergic to nuts.
I’ve made this vegetarian khoresth fesenjan with tofu twice so far and once without any meat alternative. Personally, I prefer it without any meat alternative, but feel free to add the protein of your choice.
As with all Persian stews, you start the dish by heating the oil first. You then fry the onions until slightly golden and add your spices. Some add cinnamon or Persian advieh, but I keep mine simple.
To save time in the kitchen, always multitask. While your onion is frying, toast the walnuts and process in the food processor until finely ground. The finer the ground walnut is, the smoother and creamier your sauce would be. I turn mine into an almost paste consistency. You can add a little water to process it easier. If you prefer a little texture in your stew, leave the walnuts finely ground. You can always buy ready to serve fresh pomegranate arils for added texture and color, when in season of course.
The last step of the recipe is to add in your walnuts, pomegranate molasses and water and cook the stew until it comes together. I used two different brands of pomegranate molasses, half of each. The Indo-European brand had less sugar and was more sour than the Mid-East brand. If sugar is listed first on the ingredient list, chances are the molasses is real sweet and you may need to add lemon juice. On the other hand, if sugar is listed as the second or third ingredients, you may end up adding more sugar unless you like your stew on the sour side.
As the stew cooks, liquid reduces in volume and the sauce starts to thicken and darken in color. The flavors also intensify and this is the time you want to give your sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning or flavors. The way to adjust the flavors is to add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar if the sauce tastes too sour, then stir to blend the flavors. Let it simmer for few minutes before adding more. Conversely, if the sauce tastes too sweet, adjust the balance by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Again, simmer for few minutes and taste before adding more. The thickness of the sauce can also be easily adjusted by simply adding more water to thin it or simmering it uncovered to thicken it.
In making any Persian khoresht, you often hear the saying “it has to come together” and what that means is the oil has to separate to the top, just as you see in the photos above. That’s a sure sign that it’s ready. I always skim off the excess fat and leave enough for flavoring.
If you’re using tofu, you can add it toward the last 20 minutes of cooking. For a complete instruction on preparing tofu, refer to my vegetarian khoresht kadoo recipe. I just drained and used the tofu in this stew, but I think the chewy texture of fried tofu works better with Persian stews.
Always taste and adjust the seasoning before your serve your dish :).
Serve over fragrant basmati polo, YUM!
Pomegranate arils add a dash of color, texture and flavor to your dish.
Vegetarian Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate and Walnut Stew)
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 1 hour 20 min
Ready in: 1 hour 35 min
Yields: 4 servings
1½ cups walnuts
2 tablespoons regular olive oil
1 medium onion peeled and chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1¾ cups water
¾ cup pomegranate concentrate/ molasses
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
¼ teaspoon saffron (optional)
½ cup pomegranate arils
One 14 oz. package extra firm tofu (optional)
Heat oil in a small pot. Add chopped onions and fry over medium-high heat for about 15 or until slightly golden.
In the meantime, toast the walnuts in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes or until fragrant. Stir frequently to prevent walnuts from burning.
Add the toasted walnuts to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until the walnuts are finely ground. If the walnuts stick to the sides of the bowl, stop the food processor to scrape down the sides.
When the onion is ready, stir in the salt, pepper and turmeric. Cook for a minute or so then add ground walnuts, saffron, pomegranate molasses and 1¾ cups of water. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 1 hour or until the oil separates to the top. As the sauce thickens, the walnuts settle to the bottom of the pot, so gently stir the bottom of the pot a few times toward the last 30 minutes to prevent walnuts from burning.
Pomegranate molasses can be very sweet, very sour or in-between depending on the brand used. Taste the sauce before using it and balance the sweetness and tartness according to your preference. The way to adjust the flavors is to add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar if the sauce tastes too sour, then stir to blend the flavors. Let it simmer for few minutes before adding more. Conversely, if the sauce tastes too sweet, adjust the balance by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Again, simmer for few minutes and taste before adding more. The thickness of the sauce can also be easily adjusted by simply adding more water to thin it or simmering it uncovered to thicken it.
If using tofu, add toward the last 20 minutes of cooking.
Skim the excess walnut oil from the surface of the sauce before serving the dish. Serve over fragrant basmati polo.