Armed with little more than a notebook and a bottle of pomegranate molasses, three years ago food writer Yasmin Khan set off for Iran in search of the country’s most delicious recipes for her first Persian cookbook The Saffron Tales.

Ahead of her appearance at the Festival of Literature tomorrow, the British-Iranian cook shares some of her recipes from The Saffron Tales and the stories behind them...

"Fesenjoon is a rich and incredibly moreish stew with just three key ingredients, which come together to create a truly sumptuous dish.

"Fesenjoon is one of the shahs of Persian cuisine and a dish that is often made for special occasions such as weddings.

"Don’t be put off by the time it needs on the hob. It couldn’t be simpler to make, and once everything is cooking you won’t need to do anything other than let it bubble gently in the background.

"The longer you leave the walnuts to cook, the more flavoursome the final stew will be, so feel free to let it simmer away before you add the chicken.

"Serve with white rice, a salad and some crunchy radishes on the side."

Fesenjoon (chicken with walnuts and pomegranates)


250g walnuts (the fresher the better) 1.2 litres cold water 100ml pomegranate molasses 1 tbsp tomato purée ¼ tsp ground cinnamon 2 tbsp sugar 2 tsp sea salt 1 tsp black pepper ¼ tsp golpar (optional) 800g skinless chicken thighs, on the bone A handful of pomegranate seeds, to garnish l In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they are extremely fine and have the consistency of a smooth paste.

  • Place the ground nuts in a large casserole pot with 1 litre of water and mix well. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, stirring occasionally to stop the walnuts sticking.
  •  Add the remaining 200ml of water, give the sauce a good stir, then stick the lid back on and leave to simmer for another hour. If the sauce starts looking dry, add some more cold water. You are aiming for a thick, porridge-like consistency.
  •  The sauce should now have thickened and darkened in colour. Add the pomegranate molasses, tomato purée, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper and golpar (if you have some) and stir well. Add the chicken pieces, place the lid on the pot and continue to cook over a low heat for 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is a glossy, dark chocolate colour.

  • Taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust to your preference: to make it a bit sweeter add more sugar, or pomegranate molasses to make it sourer. Cook for a final 10 minutes with the lid off so the sauce thickens around the meat. Sprinkle with a handful of pomegranate seeds before serving.

    Serves 4

    Person love cake

    "This enchanting cake reminds me of a Persian garden in the late spring, adorned with the floral scent of rose water and citrus, and decorated with bright green pistachios.

    "If it is not devoured in one sitting, the oil in the ground almond base ensures a moist, densely textured cake that will keep well for a couple of days, covered in foil.

    "A sprinkling of dried rose petals looks ever so pretty for special occasions, but don’t worry if you can’t get hold of any. It’s still a cake to win hearts."

  • Ingredients: 200g unsalted butter 150g caster sugar 4 medium eggs 12 cardamom pods 100g plain flour, sifted 275g ground almonds Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon 1 tbsp rose water 1 tsp baking powder A generous pinch of fine sea salt For the drizzle topping: 2 tbsp caster sugar Juice of ½ lemon ½ tbsp rose water For the icing: 150g icing sugar Juice of ¾ lemon 2 tsp cold water To decorate: 2 tsp sliced pistachios 2 tsp dried rose petals (optional) l Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/Gas 3. Grease a 22cm cake tin (one with a removable base) and line it with baking parchment.

  •  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. When the mixture is thoroughly combined, beat in the eggs.
  •  Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and work with a pestle to get the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and grind the seeds to a fine powder. Add them to the cake mixture, along with the flour, ground almonds, lemon zest and juice, rose water, baking powder and salt. Mix well.
  •  Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. To check if it is ready, stick a fork in the middle of the cake – it should come out dry.
  •  Towards the end of the cooking time, make your drizzle topping. Place the caster sugar, lemon juice and rose water in a small pan over a low heat and heat until the sugar melts.
  •  Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Poke holes all over the top of the warm cake and drizzle over the syrup.
  •  When the cake is completely cool, make the icing by combining the icing sugar, lemon juice and a few teaspoons of water until you have a smooth, thick icing. Spoon the icing over the cake and finish with a sprinkling of sliced pistachios and, if you like, rose petals.

    Serves 6–8

    Aloo esfinaj (chicken stew with spinach and prunes)

    "This stew was inspired by a glorious afternoon’s cooking in Rasht with pharmacist Sima Mohamadzahdeh, who likes to pot-roast a whole chicken when entertaining guests, presenting it on a bed of spinach and prune sauce.

    "My version of her masterpiece involves poaching flavourful chicken thigh pieces with some warming spices before cooking them in the luscious green sauce.

    "This khoresht is traditionally made with the juice of Seville oranges (narenj), which give a subtle, sweet and sour hint to the chicken and bring out the earthy notes of the spinach.

    "Since these are not widely available here, ordinary oranges combined with lime juice provide an intense, tangy flavour of their own. Serve with rice and a green salad."

  • Ingredients

    Sunflower oil 2 medium onions, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, crushed 8 chicken thighs, on the bone, skin off 200ml good-quality chicken stock 1 tsp turmeric pinch ground cinnamon Sea salt and black pepper ½ tsp saffron strands A pinch of sugar 2 tbsp freshly boiled water 800g spinach, roughly chopped Juice of 1 lime Juice of 1 orange Pared zest of ½ orange, sliced into strips 150g prunes 1½ tbsp flaked almonds, to garnish l Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large casserole pot and fry the onions over a low heat for 25 minutes, until they are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.

  •  Turn up the heat and add the chicken. Cook for a few minutes to brown the chicken on all sides. Lower the heat, then add the stock, turmeric, cinnamon, a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for 35 minutes.
  •  Meanwhile, make a saffron liquid by grinding the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar using a pestle and mortar and then adding the boiled water. Leave to steep.
  •  In a large pot or wok, cook the spinach over a high heat until it has wilted and then place in a colander to drain. You’ll probably have to do this in a few batches, unless you have an extremely large pot. Let the spinach cool and then squeeze it dry with your hands. Roughly chop and set aside.
  •  After the chicken has been cooking for 35 minutes, add the chopped spinach and the lime and orange juice, along with the orange zest and saffron liquid. Place a lid on the pot and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
  •  Fry the prunes in 1 tablespoon of oil until they just start to plump up and caramelise. Add them to the stew and cook for a final 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to your preference.
  •  Toast some flaked almonds in a small pan over a low heat for 1 minute until they start to go a golden brown colour. Sprinkle the toasted nuts onto the stew just before serving.

    Serves 4