FESENJAN : lamb recipe

20 January 2009


FESENJAN : Persian lamb recipe

Don’t you just love  how life has little culinary surprises in store for you…

This year we spent New Years Eve in a quaint Swiss chalet, nestled in the mountains of Eastern Switzerland. It was here that I had the good fortune of meeting Roswit & her daughter Lilly, in the kitchen…. We got to talking about cooking (funny that!) and it turns out that Roswit’s husband is Iranian and she’s learned to make several Persian dishes over the years. This explained why the chalet was filled with the delicious smells & fragrant spices during the holidays.

To my delight we exchanged details and one week later I opened my emails to find her wonderful Fesenjan recipe. This is a traditional Persian dish of duck, in a walnuts & pomegranate sauce. Roswit’s version uses lamb meatballs in a thick walnut, tomato & pomegranate sauce. It is not just the delicious scent of this dish that will capture your heart, not to mention your appetite, but the sumptuous flavour combinations. The lamb with cinnamon, garlic & a hint of sweet/sour pomegranate, with the unctuous nutty sauce that almost tastes creamy without the use of actual cream.

In the future I will try this recipe with chicken or duck and perhaps decorate the top with pomegranate seeds. I also recommend using fresh whole grain / whole wheat bread instead of white bread or bread crumbs as it keeps the meat very moist & juicy. I also used a slightly larger quantity of lamb (280 grams total), as I prefer this meat to onion ratio. This dish is excellent served on a bed of basmati onion rice (** see recipe at end of post).

sp-walnuts sp-pomegranet-juice


Walnut/Pomegranate sauce:

  • 2 cups shelled walnuts
  • 1 can peeled whole tomatoes (400g net weight can)
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice*
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cold water
Lamb Meatballs:

*For the pomegranate juice, cut a whole pomegranate in 1/2 and juice it. If you cannot find pomegranets use cranberry juice as a substitute.

  • 280 gr mince lamb (I asked the butcher for a piece of the shoulder, fat removed & minced)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 slices fresh wholegrain bread
  • 1/2 bunch parsley (you can add more if you like)
  • 2  small white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, freshly pressed
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable (not olive) oil for frying meat balls
  1. Sauce preparation: In a blender, combine walnuts, tomatoes, pomegranate juice, sugar & water until you have a creamy homogeneous mixture.
  2. Pour sauce into a pot, cover & cook on low heat for 2 hours. Stir regularly. The colour will naturally darken. NOTE: if you are pressed for time, this recipe still works if you only cook the sauce for 30 minutes.
  3. Meat preparation: I use the blender for all the chopping. 1st finely chop the onions. Cook till translucent with a little olive oil – they are easier to digest. Next finely chop the bread & parsley.
  4. In a large bowl combine cooked onions, chopped bread & parsley, pressed garlic, cinnamon, salt & pepper, egg & minced lamb.
  5. From the meatballs into ping-pong sized balls, set on a plat.
  6. In a non stick frying pan on high heat, add vegetable oil & quickly fry the meatballs  for 2 minutes to brown the outsides. Turn regularly to avoid burning. DO NOT OVER COOK or they will dry out.
  7. Now gently add the fried meatballs to the sauce. Turn of stove OFF & let sit for 15 minutes.



  • 200 grams basmati rice
  • 600 mL cold water
  • 3 whole cardamon pods
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 laurel (bay) leaves
  • 4 pepper corns (any colour)
  • 4 whole coriander seeds
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter (1 for the onions, 2 for the rice at the end)
  • 1 medium white onion
  1. Wash the rice in cold water.
  2. In a large saucepan add water, rice, spices & salt.
  3. Cover & bring almost to a boil. Reduce heat to med/low and let cook for 20 mins or until water is absorbed. NO STIRRING NECESSARY. Watch that it does not bubble over at the beginning when you have just reduced the heat.
  4. Finely chop onion and fry on a low heat with 1 tablespoon butter, until a light golden colour. Do not overcook as you want the onions to remain soft.
  5. Once rice is cooked, remove from heat, add butter & fried onions, stir well, recover and set aside for 5-10 minutes before serving.  You can add a few flecks of saffron for colour!

Healthier rice : omit the fried onions & use little or no added butter

10 Responses to “FESENJAN : lamb recipe”

  1. limeandlemon Says:

    looks delicious ..love the blend of flavours .. Laila

    • LIMEandLEMON : thanks for your note. I wish there was a scratch & sniff button on the blog, as you really need to make this recipe to appreciate the unique mix of flavours & fragrant smells that waft through the kitchen. It has become one of my favourites. NOTE : you can always add a little extra water to the sauce if you find it is too thick.

  2. Olivier Says:

    I have never tasted anything like this before. The tomato sauce with the walnuts is so good and the pommegranate juice adds a subtle touch. The meat of this dish is so soft and full of flavour. Un vrai régal!

    • Olivier: I tried the sauce before adding the pommegranate juice, just to see if it really made a difference, and it really did. Despite the small quantity, it helps to bring all the flavours together and add a subtle taste to the dish. I have also found that most meatball recipes, regardless if they use bread of not, tend to be on the dry side. These ones are not – they are soft, moist & flavourfull as you say – even when reheated the next day!

  3. Cenk Says:

    Thanks for the link Erika! Looks so yummy, I’ll definitely try this.

    • Cenk : you’re welcome. The cinnamon makes all the difference. I have tried making the meatballs with & without and noticed a big difference. Also you may like the sauce a little thinner – if so then add an extra 1/4 cup of water when blending the ingredients. Love to hear how it turns out 🙂

  4. Sara Says:

    Its nice to hear that you guys like this dish!
    BTW,the traditional way is kind of diffrent from this recipe. Its very unusual to use tomatoes. We use Pomegranate paste and saffron instead of pomegranate juice and tomatoes.
    Nice try!

    Cheers, Sara

    • Hi Sara,
      Thanks for your note. We LOVED the dish, and have made it several times for friends and family, who have been equally enthusiastic.
      Where can you buy pomegranate paste? I have also tried to find roasted chickpea flour, but have only been able to find regular chickpea flour in Geneva.
      Hope you are enjoying the summer, speak to you soon


  5. carol Says:

    This sounds delicious! I’m going to try it this week.
    Carol Wood

    • Hi Carol,
      thank you for your comment. This is a wonderful recipe – the lamb stays very tender and can even be kept in the fridge and reheat without the meat drying out, if you make a large batch. I would love to hear how it turns out.

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