Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Salad

Pomegranates represent life in Iran, and this pomegranate salad recipe was born from a combination of my grandmother’s recipes with some experimenting on my part.

Inspired by fesenjan, a Persian stew packed with pomegranates, walnuts, citrus, and lots of spices, this salad is a great way to get all that fesenjan flavor without the heaviness of a stew. Packing the taste and colors of Iran, I hope you enjoy this simple recipe to spice up your selection of salads.

Necessary Ingredients

Ingredients for the Chicken

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses, plus 1 tbsp to baste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 2 branches of fresh thyme or 1 tbsp dried
  • Salt & Pepper

Ingredients for the Salad & Dressing

  • 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Arugula
  • 1-2 large apples (Honeycrisp, Fuji or Pink Lady)
  • 1 cup of chopped, roasted walnuts
  • 1 cup of pomegranate seeds 

Pro Tip: When it comes to getting a great fesenjan-like flavor, I use Orange Blossom Honey for my salad dressing to get a hint of fresh citrus and a pomegranate molasses with just pomegranate juice and sugar, like the Sultan brand.

Assembly Process

  1. Start by marinating your chicken thighs. Place your chicken thighs, olive oil, pomegranate molasses and dry spices into a bowl and mix thoroughly to ensure the chicken thighs are well coated. Add your sprigs of fresh thyme or dried thyme and cover the bowl, placing it in the fridge to chill.
  2. Zest your lemons, ensuring to only zest the surface and avoid the pith (the bitter white portion of the skin beneath the yellow) until you have about 1 tsp of zest. Juice your lemons, measuring out 2 tbsp worth and setting aside your leftover juice.
  3. In a jar with a lid, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon zest and 2 tbsp juice, and honey and stir to combine. Add in your dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste, place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously until well-combined and place in the fridge.
  4. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Peel your apples and use a mandolin or cheese grater to slice them into large cross-sections; you can also slice them by hand if you prefer larger chunks of apple. Once sliced, use a sharp knife to cut the slices vertically into slender strands similar to that of shredded carrots. Place the apple slices in a shallow dish and coat them with leftover lemon juice to prevent browning.
  6. Cut off the top of your pomegranate. Score the outer sections of the pomegranate following the ridges (white dividing parts running from the center to the outer edges) from top to bottom with a sharp paring knife, being careful not to cut into the pomegranate itself. Using light force, pull apart the scored sections so you can easily deseed the pomegranate, collecting 1 cup of seeds.
  7. Roughly chop the toasted walnuts until you accumulate a cup (or more if you like crunch in your salads) and set them aside.
  8. Remove your chicken from the fridge. Lightly grease an oven-safe baking tray and place your marinated chicken in it, topping with the remainder of the marinade in the bowl, and bake for 25-30 minutes until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove and baste chicken breasts with 1 tbsp of pomegranate molasses before setting aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Drain the excess lemon juice from the apples and prepare your salad. Add your arugula, chopped walnuts, apple slices, and 1 cup of pomegranate seeds to a bowl and mix thoroughly after pouring in your chilled dressing.
  10. Plate the bed of salad, adding the desired portion of chicken breast on top and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds to garnish.
Sweet citrus salad dressing.
Pomegranate molasses marinated chicken.
Final product.

Several adaptations can be made to this recipe to suit different tastes, and to save time:

  • Walnuts often have a strong flavor, even toasted. If you’re not a fan of walnuts, substitute them for toasted pecans.
  • I highly recommend fresh pomegranate seeds for the best outcome, but frozen can suffice if you’re in a pinch of time or struggling to find fresh fruits at your supermarket; just don’t tell your grandmother.
  • Apples can be substituted for firmer varieties of pears, like the Anjou or Asian pear, to give a subtle boost of sweetness.
  • If you’re a fan of duck and looking for a more luxurious dish, you can replace the chicken thighs for duck legs; simply follow your favorite braising recipe, ensuring to marinate the duck with pomegranate molassess, cinnamon, and allspice.

Regardless of the adaptations you make, I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Nooshejaan, bon appétit!

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