Stumbling upon this book in a Toronto bookstore was like finding the book you always needed but didn’t know it. Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and other irritating states – A dinner party approach to international relations, by Chris Fair. The author is a political strategist and South Asian expert and so behind a seemingly tongue in cheek project there lies a serious and thought provoking editorial. Each dinner party menu is preceded with a rather scathing commentary on why an irritating state is a rather less then savoury world player before laying out a menu based on their usually much less irritating cuisine.

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Fair believes that food and foreign policy are inextricably linked and that a possible solution to international relations lies in a gigantic dinner party.

A great mixture of bed time reading and well planned easy to follow recipes. Should Obama fail to save the world through eloquent speeches and general intelligent politicking – perhaps peace and world order can be restored through dinnering?

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I have tried making this Persian dish a couple of times with varying degrees of success. It’s an Iranian staple cooked using duck or veal or lamb as well as chicken. There is a myriad of recipes for this available on the Internet and so it’s hard to know where to look so I always ended up going my own way not quite following the recipes to the letter but still coming up with a rich, fruity sweet and sour concoction. Impatience is my kitchen virtue, what can I say. While they say a blender or food processor is essential before you embark on such a recipe, take heart. I personally tend to leave the food processor where it can’t torment me with it’s bizarre adult proof lid and revert to the good old “place-nuts-in-plastic-bag-and-bash-relentlessly-on-the-floor-until-pulverised” method. This works well, at least until your neighbours object…

Chris Fair includes a recipe for this Iranian chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew Khoresh-e-Fesanjan and it is the best I’ve come across. Detailed and informed and easy to follow.

The following recipe is reproduced here from Chris Fair’s wonderful book as mentioned above. Highly recommend it.

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Ingredients
(Depending on how many people – this is for about 8
4 small yellow onion also finely chopped
1 pound walnuts shelled – roasted and cooled
half pound carrots
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
5 cups warm water
almost a teaspoon of saffron threads (if you have to, use powder)
2 teaspoons rock salt
4 tablespoons ghee (vegetable oil)
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons demerera sugar (use white if necessary but a strong brown sugar is nicer)
1 and a half teaspoons cinnamo
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Garnish

Fresh pomegranate seeds and rose petals

Making

Roast the walnuts being careful not to burn them -set aside and let cool. Slice the carrots and the onions finely. Then mix the pomegranate syrup with the warm water mixing well. Deal with the saffron – grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle with a little of the rock salt. Apparently some people use a sugar cube, up to you…

Then in a large skillet or pot heat the ghee or oil and fry the onions until translucent. Do this slowly so they don’t burn or become brown. Then fry the chopped chicken breasts until brown. I add a couple of tablespoons of water here to prevent sticking. Then add the carrots for another few minutes of frying stirring constantly on a low heat.

Pulverising the walnuts - ideally you have a food processor. I have one but the heartache involved every time in opening and closing the thing means I revert always to my trusty method of placing said walnuts in a plastic bag and pounding them for all I’m worth with a large rolling pin. Usually while crouching on the floor. So – whether by violent means or using a food processor you have learned to handle grind the walnuts into a fine powder. At this point either using a blender or a food processor – blend the rest of the salt, cinnamon, sugar and saffron into the pomegranate mixture . Add the fried carrots and blend again until smooth. Add the creamy mixture to the chicken. Then add the ground walnuts.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Walnuts burn easily so keep an eye on it.

At this point add a little sugar or syrup to taste, the colour will start to turn to a reddish brown and you can add water if necessary to prevent it from being too thick.

Serve with white rice and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds.