From Saffron & Rose Water


Photo by Shannon Kelli

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  • Author: Recipe by Sima Dehestani of Syma's Cafe in Albany | Photo by Shannon Kelli
  • Yield: Serves 4


Sima Dehestani remembers fall in Iran as cold and rainy, a good time to cook a khoresh (stew) like fesenjān. An ancient dish that predates Islam, this rich and tangy meat stew with ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses is a popular choice at Syma’s, where Dehestani makes it with tiny meatballs. She also offers a vegetarian version using chunks of butternut squash instead of the meat.

“When I was growing up, we usually used duck, but you can use lamb, beef, or chicken,” she adds.


Units Scale

For the meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 pounds finely chopped meat (see choices above)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon saffron water (see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup finely ground walnuts
  • 6 ounces pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Sugar to taste


To make the meatballs: Place the chopped meat and chopped onion in a medium bowl along with saffron water and salt. Combine well and form the mixture into tiny meatballs (the size of large marbles).

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the meatballs in a single layer. (Cook them in two batches if your skillet is not large enough.) Brown the meatballs on all sides and let them simmer until they have released all their moisture. Remove from the flame but keep the meatballs warm as you make the sauce.

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a medium skillet or saucepan. Add the ground walnuts and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the pomegranate molasses plus a small amount of cold water to thin the sauce. (It’s important to use cool or cold water when thinning the sauce as hot water would alter the structure.)

Bring to a boil on high heat, then turn down to a simmer. Add more cold water along with the salt. Taste for sweetness and add sugar as desired. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve with saffron rice.


Saffron Water

Saffron is an important flavor in many Persian recipes, which is why Sima Dehestani always has a cruet filled with saffron water at the ready in her kitchen. To make it, grind 1 tablespoon saffron threads and mix with ½ cup hot water in jar or cruet.


  • Category: Meat Entree