My son has an insatiable desire to learn everything he can about the world; mainly about other countries. Although he hasn’t formally taken a US History course, he’s already decided that US History is boring because “it’s too new.”
At this point, he knows more than I do about world geography and facts (but he himself doesn’t know this thanks to the speed and accuracy of my secret Google searches when his back is turned). He reads the old-school atlas my father gave to him and he insisted he go off to sleep away camp with one of those unwieldy globes that our elementary school teachers had perched on their desks. Thankfully we settled on a flat, laminated world map. And luckily, my brilliant friend decided to smuggle him a world map beach ball to camp (it would pass the camps’ “no package” policy since before inflation it’s flat like any old letter!)
I knew his international curiosity would at some point intersect with my culinary adventures in the kitchen. Frankly, I was sort of fearing the day he would walk into the kitchen and proclaim he wanted me to make Peking Duck, Coq au Vin or Baked Alaska. He has very high standards towards my cooking—which is so sweet and daunting at the same time. I find when I cook, he’s the one family member I really don’t want to disappoint.
The other day, my culinary fear came to fruition when he marched into the kitchen and said he wanted to replicate the Persian dish, Lamb Fesenjan, he had eaten while visiting Pop Pop Buddha in Baltimore! Ay.
Not only did I have absolutely no idea to what he was referring, but I have never even cooked with lamb— save the lamb chops that came prepared already marinated. After I was initially annoyed, I took his request on as a challenge. I had to remind myself that I had just spoken to him the day prior about taking on challenges helps us grow as people. If we always marinate in our comfort zones, we won’t grow.
“Ok, you’re on, let’s do this. On one condition, let’s alter the recipe and make Chicken Fesenjan.” He conceded and we started our journey collecting the ingredients at the local market.
Our challenge was that my son remembered specifically how the dish tasted. He raved about the thick pomegranate sauce layered on top of the meat and he was quite disappointed when I told him I couldn’t find pomegranate glaze and that we’d have to improvise. Again, another life lesson: sometimes when we can’t find/get what we want, we have to make do with what we have. So, we purchased pomegranate seeds as well as POM juice for use in our homemade glaze.
That afternoon we spent chopping and boiling and sautéing and we had a blast. My son took ownership of the pomegranate sauce and learned to taste it along the way and to tweak the ingredients until it tasted close enough to the restaurant-quality sauce (or met his discerning approval). He’s such an exact, by-the-book kid that tweaking and improvising the recipe turned out to be a very constructive exercise.
When our Chicken Fesenjan was finally served that evening for dinner, I’ve never felt more proud. Not only did our international dish taste wonderful– due to the unique combination of the crushed walnuts and pomegranate sauce– but, we had all challenged ourselves and subsequently “grew” in the process.
Next time, Lamb Fesenjan…..
- 2 large onions — chopped or sliced
- 5 teaspoons butter
- 6 chicken breasts
- 1 can beef bouillon or consomme (since we used chicken we didn’t use- use with lamb)
- 2 1/2 cups finely ground walnuts
- 4 1/2 teaspoons pomegranate syrup (we used 4 1/2 teaspoons POM juice and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds)
- 3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron (or turmeric)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Saute the onions in 2 tbsp. of the butter until golden brown. Remove from the pan. Add 3 more tbsp. of butter and saute the chicken pieces until light brown. Add the sauteed onions, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Prepare the sauce by stirring the water into the ground walnuts. Stir in the pomegranate syrup and sugar, simmer gently over a low heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Combine the cooked, chicken and most of its drippings with the walnut sauce; add the seasonings and the lemon juice; cover and simmer gently for another hour or less.
- Adjust the seasonings by adding a little sugar if too sour, or more pomegranate syrup if too sweet. The chicken pieces should be coated with a rich, dark, sweet-sour sauce; there should be plenty of thick sauce (if you use juice sauce will be a lot thinner). Best served with rice.