Medley of life lessons from fesenjan

A rich, heart-warming Iranian stew offers food for thought as I mull over my resolutions for 2013.

If the New Year greets me with a strange mix of onions, some chicken or duck breasts, a jar of walnuts, a half-bottle of pomegranate molasses, brown sugar and, maybe, a saffron thread or two, I won’t despair. Instead, I’ll stew all the fruity, meaty and nutty ingredients together to make a heartwarming koresht-e fesenjan.

Fesenjan is admittedly not pretty, save a jewelled garnish of pomegranate seeds. When I recently ordered the stew at an Iranian restaurant, my guest grimaced at the spoonful of brown sludge that I happily ladled on my plate. But fesenjan has taught me that it is only when you risk the dark morass that you realise the complexity of a stew worthy of multiple tastings. It takes one bite to pinch your inner cheeks with the astringency of pomegranate, a tart first impression that makes your tongue instantly recoil at the edges.

It takes a second bite to realise that, at its core, the acidic stew can be quite sweet and yielding, with an indulgence that coats your tongue and makes amends for a harshness it did not intend to begin with. It takes a third bite to laugh at the outrageous nuttiness of it all – who would have suspected that the swampy appearance was a farce, one that concealed plump chicken breasts and a noble, saffron-kissed stew for those willing to dip below the surface?

Cooking is often a metaphor for life. If 2013 confronts me with a strange mix of elements that feel mismatched, or even opposed, I resolve to challenge myself to give them a stewed coherence. I resolve to focus on the substance that can add richness to my life. I resolve to look beyond the superficial annoyances that often throw me off track.

I resolve to make fesenjan.

• Khoresht-e fesenjan is a Monday special at Abshar Iranian Restaurant, Deira; 04 223 0555

Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at

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