Persian-Style Chicken

Tu b'shevat, the New Year for Trees, begins this year sundown on January 15th.  It's really cool that Tu B'shvat falls on the 15th this year because Tu b'shevat literally refers to the 15th day of the Hebrew month of shvat. 

While it may seem silly to celebrate trees in this frigid US winter, in Israel it's traditional this time of year to plant a tree, both literally and figuratively.

It is also traditional to eat foods that were plentiful in Israel during biblical times: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives (usually in the form of oil) and honey (technically date honey, but bee honey is more easily found in the US).  Collectively, these foods are known as the "seven species."  

Because almond trees are in bloom this time of year in Israel, almonds are unofficially considered the 8th species.  Persian-style chicken is traditionally made with ground walnuts, but since I prefer to use slivered almonds instead, this is almost the perfect Tu B'shvat dinner.

Until I first made this chicken recipe, my preferred way of dealing with pomegranates was to eat it like a child ... tearing it into chunks, biting into one, crunching down a bit to release the juices, then spitting out the seeds and the membrane which hates to be separated from the seeds without a fight.  Very messy, which meant that I never ate pomegranates when company was present.   But in this recipe, I have no problem eating the seeds themselves. Perhaps the crunchiness of the slivered almonds hides the crunch of the seeds.

Fun fact no. 1:  the seeds of the pomegranate are also known as arils.  Almost no one calls them that, but good to know in case it comes up in a crossword puzzle.
Fun fact no. 2:  Speaking of tearing the fruit into chunks, that is the wrong way to remove the arils.  I've tried the hit-it-with-the-back-of-the-spoon method.  That never worked for me.  But around a year ago I found the bowl-of-water method to be far superior, if a little moister.  Check out this cool video to see how it's done.

It took me about 45 minutes, including a phone call, successfully finding where I hid the almonds, unsuccessfully finding the cardamom, and de-arilizing the pomegranate, so you can make this for a weeknight dinner.

The jewel-like arils make the presentation look exquisite enough for company.

Persian-Style Chicken
Yield:  4 servings

2 Tbl. olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced into rings
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (only optional if you can't find it)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 tsp. chopped garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 whole chicken, cut into eighths
seeds from 1 medium pomegranate (about 1 cup), divided
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, divided
2 Tbl. pomegranate molasses
1 Tbl. honey
1 cup water
2 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (approx. 1/2 large lemon)
Cooked rice, enough for your family

Juuuust a tad undercooked.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add oil, wait 10 seconds then add onions.  Saute for 5 minutes or until onions soften. Add cinnamon, cardamom, salt, black pepper and garlic; saute for 30 seconds.  Push onions to the sides, then add chicken pieces in a single layer.  Brown chicken for 4 minutes each side (chicken will not be cooked through).

Add 1/2 cup of the pomegranate seeds along with 1/4 cup of the chopped almonds around the chicken.  Stir pomegranate molasses and honey into the cup of water, then pour over chicken. 

Bring to a simmer (which should happen quickly).  Reduce heat, cover and continue to simmer until chicken is cooked through (juices run clear when pierced with the tip of a knife).

Remove from heat; stir lemon juice into sauce. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.  Plate chicken over rice.  Spoon a little sauce over each serving.  Garnish with remaining pomegranate seeds and toasted almonds just before serving.


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