Tag Archives: walnut

Giving Thanks for Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Every Thanksgiving, it’s the same story. I have to look into the smirky face of a friend and respond: “No, I will not be carving a Tofurkey for the holidays.” Now why would I want to gnaw on a fake bird when there are so many awesome harvest dishes with which to stuff my face?

If you’re like me, or the approximately 95,456 other frantic people who were shopping at Whole Foods alongside me today, you’d probably appreciate an easy, delicious, healthy and full-flavored side dish recipe that can feed an army while pleasing both veggies and carnivores alike.  Yes? Never fear my friends, because the Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf is here! I created this recipe a couple Thanksgivings ago and it’s become one of my favorite fall dishes since it’s got a beautiful blend of flavors: the nutty taste of wild rice, festive bits of fresh apple and dried cranberry, a hint of pomegranate balsamic vinegar to add a feisty little kick, and walnuts (or toasted pecans) to add a bit of protein. And best yet, you can make this dish the day before your big gathering to help easy your stress. (I can practically hear you now: “Cut the foodie chitchat Cimeron and gimme that recipe right now before I throw giblets at you!”)  (By the way, what the hell are giblets?)  (Never mind, I don’t think I want to know!)

Have a great Thanksgiving, my friends! 🙂

Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Serves: 10 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 5 minutes (plus refrigeration time if serving cold)

3 cups cooked wild rice (about 1 cup dry rice makes approximately 3 cups cooked)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup granny smith apple, finely diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts or toasted pecans, chopped
A splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar (I like 11 Olives’ balsamic since it’s thick, rich and has a gorgeous flavor)
A splash of rosemary olive oil (I use 11 Olives’ olive oil because it’s divine)

In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients. Add just enough rosemary olive oil to coat the rice, and add pomegranate balsamic to taste. Season with salt and pepper. You can serve it hot, chilled or at room temp – it’s fantastic no matter the temperature at which you serve it. Enjoy stuffing your face with this lovely dish!

 

Divine Persian Pomegranate/Walnut Dish: Fesenjun

Ah, pomegranates, the fruit of my people! This is my favorite dish on earth. The slightly sharp spike of pomegranates adds a surprising hint of tartness and plush, dark fruit flavor to perfectly offset the richness of the walnuts and onion in this divine sauce, which is ladled over basmati rice (of course cooked the Persian style so that every single grain is a universe unto itself!) When cooled, you can also use it as a dipping sauce for pita bread, which makes a delicious appetizer. You don’t have to have fresh pomegranates to make this dish – all you need is pomegranate juice. In most Persian households, this dish is typically served with chicken or lamb, which according to my meat-loving husband is perfectly complimented by the deep pomegranate flavor and savory walnuts scented with saffron, but now that he’s making an effort to eat vegan meals, he actually loves it with fake chicken! (Personally, I like it without anything in it, but hey, if Captain Carnivore will eat it with fake chicken, I’m all for adding it).

Okay, so confession time: a few weeks ago I made Fesenjun for John with faux chicken and didn’t tell him it was fake meat. He didn’t notice. When I told him later, he didn’t flip out at all (bonus!) Instead, he said: “Makes sense that I didn’t realize it. The sauce is the star of this dish and it can really hide the fake meat well, so no wonder I didn’t miss the real meat with this.” That’s HUGE news for my Operation Carnivore Conversion efforts! If faux chicken in Fesenjun works for the Master of Meats, my bet is that it will work for you (or your meat-loving friends/significant others) as well.

While this dish doesn’t require fresh pomegranates, it’s a really nice touch to add a few fresh seeds as garnish. In many locations, they’re available well into February, but they usually disappear by March, so if you can, get a pomegranate and try this recipe soon!

I want to take a moment to remember and thank my sweet little Persian mother for introducing me to Fesenjun. She didn’t know how to cook when she came to America, which made for some funny and memorable meals when I was young. But after I had my first taste of Fesenjun in a restaurant and literally jumped up and down beside the table, she was determined to try to make it for me at home. And boy was that comical, but I loved helping her in the kitchen! Watching her try (unsuccessfully) to wing it and giggle while removing onion skins from the sauce, I started writing down various attempts including the ingredients and proportions, and then finding and trying various recipes with her. I credit my mother and Fesenjun for sparking the passion for cooking in me, and this recipe is the very first recipe I ever created. Whenever I make this dish, I feel like my mother is in the kitchen with me again and I can hear her bubbly laughter like she were still here, cooking right beside me and feeding me pomegranate seeds while I stir the sauce. As my mother would say, noosh-ee jan!

Fesenjun – Persian Pomegranate Walnut Sauce Over Rice

Prep and cooking time: about 1 hour and 45 minutes (but trust me, it’s worth it! And the vast majority of that time is just simmering time, and all you have to do is stir it every 20 minutes or so. So don’t be scared off by the time – it’s super simple to make.)

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
4 cups of pomegranate juice (get freshly squeezed juice if possible)
2 cups shelled walnuts (Trader Joe’s always seems to have the best price)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water (again, Trader Joe’s has the most affordable saffron that I’ve been able to find)
sugar (or raw agave sweetener), to taste
a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds
Fake chicken – optional
Freshly cooked basmati rice

In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. (If you don’t have a processor, just put the nuts in a blender and add 2 cups of the pomegranate juice and use the “puree” setting to grind up the nuts – the juice will help prevent the nuts from creating walnut paste at the blades.) Add all the pomegranate juice, cinnamon and saffron, and mix until it’s the consistency of a thin, watery smoothy. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until they’re translucent and just starting to brown. Add the salt and stir well. Add the pomegranate/walnut mixture and stir well. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer (on my gas range, that’s around #2 on the dial) – it should have a bit of a gentle boil going on. Cover the pot and cook for 1.5 hours. Be sure to stir it every now and then to prevent scorching (which can happen since the nuts settle to the bottom). The sauce will thicken considerably as it cooks.

After 1.5 hours, taste-test the sauce. Personally, I love the tartness of the pomegranate, but if it’s too sharp for you, add 1 tablespoon of sugar (or a few drops of the agave sweetener) and stir well. Keep adding sugar/sweetener to taste (but be careful not to overdo it). You’ll be surprised how much the sugar rounds out the flavors! Now take a stick blender and blend it until it’s smooth but still a tiny bit chunky. (If you don’t have a stick blender, you can do this in a regular blender or with a food processor). If using fake chicken, add it now and continue cooking the sauce until the faux chicken is heated through, which should take 1-2 minutes. Serve atop hot rice and sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds, which will make your dish beautiful!  Noosh-ee-jan!

p.s. When you refrigerate the leftovers, Fesenjun makes a delicious dip with pita bread the next day! So you can serve it as dinner one night, and an appetizer the next. Nummy!