He made it for me with lamb, then I made it for him with chicken. Then we got married.
Reviewed by Dietitian Emily Lachtrupp, M.S., RD
When I met my husband, we were both married to other people. He was in the process of getting divorced, and I was separated, so we were both partnerless invitees to a Lunar New Year party.
Our initial conversation revolved around the food and the traditions associated with the holiday I grew up celebrating. This was the first time I wasn’t getting red pocket envelopes stuffed with money (also known as lai see in Cantonese) from my family, as I had taken a job 1,000 miles north in Vermont. I particularly remember a long conversation we had about Yi Mein, also known as Long Life Noodles, and how you can never cut the noodles because it meant you were cutting life short.
The first time he invited me over for a meal, it was for Nowruz, also known as Persian New Year. My husband was born in Iran while his parents were teaching at the Tehran American School in the ’70s. Every year, my husband and his mother celebrate Persian New Year by making Lamb Fesenjan and a saffron-hued Tah Chin or Persian Rice Pie, both topped with lots of fresh herbs and greens to symbolize spring and new life.
I had never heard of the holiday, nor had I tried any of the dishes. But my first bite of the Lamb Fesenjan is still one I’ll never forget. The tangy sweetness from the pomegranate molasses, rich sauce from the ground walnuts and the undertone of warm spices from the cinnamon, cumin and saffron was a flavor blend I had never experienced. Much like I would come to learn over the next few years of us coupling, being with my professor husband would expose me to an education in culture, food and emotional diversity I never knew existed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, I had to woo him like he wooed me. I did what I do best (besides talking): I cooked for him. The first few times I served him dinner, I made lengthy and complicated recipes to show off my culinary prowess. Two-day lamb curries and Chinese char siu barbecued pork, homemade noodles and ramen broth, and a meat lasagna that included making homemade ricotta were just a few of the recipes I pulled out.
He enjoyed them, but I could tell they weren’t his favorites. So I switched back to the flavor profile I knew he craved from childhood, one that was heavy in cumin and saffron and always served with rice. Since I was then working in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, I penned the recipe, swapping the traditional lamb for chicken to make it a weeknight- and budget-friendly meal.
What emerged is this Chicken Fesenjan, an homage to the classic recipe but made with bone-in chicken thighs and ready in less than an hour. Using bone-in means the chicken doesn’t get dry. Chicken thighs tend to have a richer flavor compared to breasts, though if you’re not a dark meat fan, you can use breasts instead. Additionally, the dietitian in me loves that you get a hefty dose of brain-boosting walnuts as part of the sauce.
The popular Marry Me Chicken recipe that has been circulating on TikTok relies on a creamy, cheesy sun-dried tomato sauce. While it’s no doubt delicious, I’ll argue that making something that relies on spices and nuts is equally impressive.
We've now been married for five years and are happily raising our own chickens—and our 2-year-old twins—on our farm in Vermont, so I guess the recipe worked. While I know it wasn’t solely the Chicken Fesenjan that won him over, I do know that blending a piece of his history with mine was the first step to creating the book of traditional recipes that we’ll pass on to our own kids someday.
Read the original article on Eating Well.