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Like many people these days, my husband and I are eating more plant-based meals. Maybe you are choosing to eat less meat for your health or because it is better for the planet. Perhaps you are making this choice for ethical or moral reasons. With so many wonderful options for meat substitutes now readily available, it has never been easier to try making this transition.
Not too long ago, my niece gifted me a beautiful cookbook called I Cook in Color by Asha Gomez. Based now in Atlanta, GA, Ms. Gomez originates from Kerala in Southern India. The dishes are visually striking with fresh flavors, lots of herbs and spices and fruit/vegetable forward.
Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan is her take on a famous Persian stew or khoresh. It is generally made with some kind of ground meat or poultry. Redolent with walnuts, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, orange zest and pomegranate molasses, it is rich without being heavy. Following Ms. Gomez’s suggestion, I served the vegan Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan with a Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice. For a bit of extra richness and umami, the rice cooks in coconut milk.
Since it is not really pomegranate season here, I was unable to garnish my dish with that beautiful pop of red jeweled fruit. But the resulting dinner was nevertheless amazing and I would be proud to serve it to guests. I accompanied my tangy, sweet fesenjan with some ripe cantaloupe as a starter and the Saffron Pistachio Blondies for dessert. Meat? Never missed it!
However, if you really aren’t ready to go meatless, you can try this more traditional version of fesenjan.
Servings: about 6
2 cups lightly toasted walnuts
3 Tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds’1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or jaggery
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
3 wide strips of orange zest from a navel orange
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (readily available these days, but a recipe is linked)
4 cups of cooked chickpeas (I like to cook my own, but canned are fine too)
4 cups torn fresh spinach leaves (About 2 big handfuls)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (This can also be done in a dry pan on the stove if you are not using your oven for anything else.) Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan in a single layer and place them in the oven for about 5 minutes. As soon as you begin to smell the walnuts, immediately remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.
Once cooled, pulse the walnuts in a food processor until almost a fine powder. Be careful not to turn them into a paste.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they are golden (about 8 minutes). Next add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more.
Now add in the spices and roast for about 30 seconds to help them bloom. Once they are fragrant, add the brown sugar and salt and give everything a quick stir.
Once combined, you are ready to add the orange zest, stock, pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Simmer for 2 minutes, mixing everything through. Then lower the heat to medium-low and add in the chickpeas. Cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes. The fesenjan can be prepared ahead up to this point. When you are ready to serve, add the torn spinach leaves. Give everything a good mix and remove from the heat.