Friday, November 21, 2008

Cuisines of the Axis of Evil - Airdate - 11/21/08 - 4 p.m. (ET)

Update - 11/21/08: This show has aired. You can download the MP3 from our archive. Let us know what you think!

Maria Putzer

As much as we would have enjoyed having Chris Fair, the author of Cuisines of the Axis of Evil on the show on Friday, she is unable to join as she will be in Iraq until November. Be sure to look for a show with her in early November!

In the mean time, we're working on a show about doughnuts or mushrooms. Any guest suggestions?

Update: Joe Hardtke

So as you may have heard, Chris Fair was able to join us for a lively jaunt through the world's wildest meals. It was so fun, we didn't want it to stop, so we invited Chris here to the blog!

At the end of the show, Chris promised to share the Iranian recipe for Khoresh-e-Fesanjan. Sometime over the weekend, expect Chris to respond to this post with the goods. Enjoy! And thanks, Chris!


Christine Fair said...

Dudes and Dudettes...As promised, here's one way of whipping up Fesanjan, a dish in front of which my brothers cower in fear. They aren't a fan of the texture, the hue or, alas, the pomegranate goop. I love them nonetheless.

For best results, this dish requires a food processor or a flotilla of servants who adeptly wield gallon sized mortars and pestle with verve and vigor and without a whimper of complaint.

Fesanjan has two variants-sweet and sour. Since I have not been accused of being sweet ever and have a refined sour-tooth, the below recipe will put you closer to the sour end of things. You can always adjust this according to your taste by adding a bit more sugar or a bit more pomegranate syrup. When “adjusting” do so using very small amounts of either the sugar or the syrup. You can really screw up the balance of flavors if you are not absolutely careful.


* (At least) 4 tablespoons ghee (or vegetable oil). You will find various brands of Ghee catering to Middle Eastern and “Indian” shoppers.
* 2 pound skinless and boneless chicken breast. (Since this is Thanksgiving, why not try Turkey? And in a few days, the grocery store will practically pay you to take the frozen birds off their hands and out of their inventory.) For the urbane hunter and gatherer, rabbits and other “tastes like chicken” varmints would work as well. Traditionally Persians made this with duck.
* 4 small yellow onions.
* ½ lb carrots. (Many folks I know leave the carrots out and they think it’s weird that I like them. If you don’t have carrots, finely grated butternut squash will do…and they are in season). This can also be omitted if you think that orange vegetables are repugnant.
* 1 lb shelled walnut halves.
* 2 tsp rock salt. (Don’t cheat and use the other stuff.)
* 1 ½ cup pomegranate syrup, available at Middle Eastern markets. You may need to add more to adjust to taste. (Tyler Florence calls this “pomegranate molasses.” NOTE to Tyler Florence: You play with pomegranate molasses in my kitchen any time you want.)
* 3 Tbsp damerara sugar. You may need to add more to adjust for your taste preferences.
* 1 ½ tsp cinnamon.
* 3/4 tsp saffron threads. Purchase a medium sized sachet of saffron. While Persian or Indian saffron is preferred, Spanish or other varieties will do just fine. Trader Joes sells saffron too. But do try to get the Iranian or Indian saffron.

For Garnish:
½ cup Fresh pomegranate seeds or
dried rose petals (available at Middle Eastern or Latino markets.)

Let’s get cooking:
1) Toast the walnuts. I prefer to spread them out on a thick cookie sheet and place them in the oven at 350 degrees. Watch them like a shoplifter at Walmart to ensure that they do not burn. As you continue preparing the dish, the walnuts will continue to darken throughout the cooking process and will give a deep brown hue to the dish. I do this the morning of the party such that they can cool thoroughly before I need to use them. (Also, if I screw this up the first time, there is time to fix the problem!) The walnuts will continue to cook as long as they are warm—even if you remove them from the oven. For this reason, I always transfer them to a cool plate to prevent them from over cooking behind my back.
2) Prepare the vegetables. Julienne the carrots (or squash). The thinner you can make the carrot strips the better. Slicing them in a food processor works best. Set the sliced carrots aside. Next, cut the onions into very thin slices.
3) Prepare the pomegranate syrup. Dilute the 1 cup of syrup into 5 cups of warm water. Agitate to make sure that the syrup doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel.
4) Prepare the saffron. Grind in a mortar and pestle with some of the rock salt. The rock salt will give you some traction on the elusive threads and help you render it salty powder. Dissolve in 2 Tbsp. hot water. If you omit this step, the saffron threads will not dissolve and you’ll have threads floating in your dish. It’s not attractive or a good use of those somewhat expensive threads.
5) In a 6 qt. pot, heat the ghee (or oil) over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until translucent. This will take 5-8 minutes. Next, place the chicken breasts into the pot and fry, with frequent stirring, until the chicken pieces are golden brown. This may take 15 to 20 minutes. Finally, add the sliced carrots to the pot and fry, with continual stirring, for another 2-4 minutes. You want the carrots to wilt and to lose their “fresh” look. Cover and let sit on very low heat while you do the next step. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. The carrots will continue to cook for a few minutes while you grind the walnuts as described below.
6) Grind the walnuts in food processor. Stop when the walnuts look like granular sand. Don’t go further or you will end up with walnut butter! If using a food processor, add the salt, sugar, cinnamon and saffron water.
7) Remove the chicken from the above step and slice into strips.
8) Add the fried onions and carrots to the bowl of the food processor and blend until the sauce is creamy. I do this because I don’t want to see onion slices and carrot shreds in my Fesanjan! Add the sauce back to the pan along with the diluted pomegranate syrup. Stir thoroughly.
9) Add the chicken slices to the pot with the sauce. Cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes over very low heat. You will need to keep an eye on this and stir occasionally to prevent the walnuts from burning. Walnuts burn easily, as you may have noticed in the browning phase if you weren’t careful.
(If you do not have a food processor, blend the salt, sugar, cinnamon along with the diluted pomegranate syrup and saffron water in a blender. Add the fried vegetables and blend until smooth. Add the creamy sauce mixture to the pot along with the chicken strips. Grind the walnuts in an electric chopper. Add the walnuts to the pot stirring well. Do not put the walnuts in the pot first! Walnuts burn easily and you will want to buffer their addition with the liquid.)
10) At first, this is NOT going to look terribly appetizing. In fact, you will no doubt wonder if this was a mistake and will consider aborting this mission. But do not despair: this unsightly phase is temporary. As the mixture continues to cook, you will see the color change from stomach-churning dull reddish brown to a sultry deep brown—almost a mahogany color. This hue is due to the continued cooking of the walnuts. By the way, the walnuts can still burn and screw up your dish. So stir carefully. Only after it has cooked for forty minutes or so, taste the sauce and adjust to your sweet or sour preferences by adding sugar or pomegranate syrup accordingly. If the sauce is too thin, cook with the cover off over low heat to thicken. If it is too thick, you can thin it with warm water. By this time, you should have a lovely looking sauce.
11) When ready, you can garnish with some pomegranate seeds and/or rose petals. Serve it with the saffron rice and teh degh. Drink up with a Shiraz of your choice or even a Temperanillo.

"Grill or Be Grilled" Chris Fair

Joe Hardtke said...

Great having you on, Chris. Come back soon!

F. Milton Olsen III said...

Food shows are fine.

Shows which prop up a false Bush-Cheney-ist "Axis of Evil" idea are not.

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