The Mighty Walnut


As walnut trees are common in many parts of the Near Eat and particularly in forests throughout the Caucasus mountains, it’s not surprising the region’s people favor the flavorful nut the tree produces.  Today’s dish, Chicken with Walnut-Cilantro Sauce, is one way cooks in Georgia (the country, not the US state!) make good use of the bounty.

It turns out walnut sauce is quite popular in Georgia, appearing atop or alongside many dishes.  This affinity extends beyond the country’s borders, as neighboring Persians enjoy fesenjan, a walnut stew with a similar cast of ingredients.

The Georgian sauce is a bit thicker than is fesenjan, and coarsely-chopped walnuts are sprinkled on generously,adding crunch and a more diverse texture.  The flavors cover a broad range too, with sweet-tart pomegranate molasses providing a zing which dances playfully with the walnuts’ meaty richness.  A hot pepper or two is ground into the sauce as well, enlivening things with a spark.

When Milk Street described the preparation in its November-December 2018 issue, the opportunity to try something from a rather unfamiliar cuisine (Georgia’s) became irresistible.  The ingredients attracted interest too, as Western cooking usually limits walnuts to desserts or uses them as a salad topping.  Worthy options, to be sure, though the chance to bring walnuts front and center intrigued, as did their prominence in a savory dish.

Walnuts may be the star here, though cilantro has a good supporting role.  Not only does it garnish the chicken beautifully, but the leaves also are blended into the sauce, imparting a nice freshness.  Even before the sauce comes together, and prior to the chicken cooking, the bird is dry-rubbed with ground coriander (which, for those who didn’t know, is from cilantro seed pods).

These are the influences, yet walnuts set the sauce’s tone.  Just one taste, and it’s easy to understand why nearby Persians often make a meal of the sauce alone.  When added to poultry…absolutely divine!

*****

Georgian Chicken with Walnut-Cilantro Sauce

  • 4 teaspoons ground coriander, divided
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 pounds bone in, skin-on chicken thighs
  •  3 large garlic gloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 serrano chilies, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, divided
  • 3/4 cup fresh cilantro, lightly packed and divided
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 and 1/4 cups chicken broth, divided
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a rack at medium height.  Stir together2 tablespoons of the coriander and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt and rub it on the chicken thighs.  Set them aside.

In a blender, combine the garlic, tomato paste, serranos, 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate molasses, 1/2 cup of the cilantro, remaining 2 teaspoons of the coriander, 3/4 cup of the walnuts, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 3/4 cup of the broth.  Puree until smooth.

Place a large skillet over a medium high flame.  Add the oil and heat until it barely begins to smoke, about 4 minutes.  Add the chicken, skin side down, in a single layer.  Cook undisturbed until the skin is crisp and golden-brown, about six minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate and pour off the drippings.

Reduce flame to medium-low and return the skillet to the flame.  Pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of the broth, scraping up any browned bits.  Increase the flame to medium and add the walnut puree.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until it simmers.

Place the chicken back in the skillet, skin side up this time, and transfer to the oven.  Cook for about 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let it rest for five minutes.  Spoon the sauce from the skillet over the chicken, sprinkle in the remaining walnut, garnish with pomegranate arils (*1) and cilantro, and serve.

NOTES:

1 – Which weren’t at the market when I bought groceries for today’s meal.  Pity, as they would have added a pop of color and flavor.  Mark my words, when I return later next week, the pomegranate arils will be back!  Naturally.

 

23 thoughts on “The Mighty Walnut

    1. Why, thank you, Mar!

      Walnuts and cilantro, a combination unique to a place where walnut groves shade the slopes, and trade routes import Asians’ love for cilantro.

      As for the molasses, I ended up buying mine online. Though my area has a larger-than-average share of people of Lebanese descent, pomegranate molasses still is elusive. However, Amazon delivered (in more ways than one), and it may provide what you seek too, Mar.

      If you do decide to buy a bottle, I think you’ll like the result. Simultaneously sweet and tart, pomegranate molasses isn’t quite like any other you’ve tried.

      Like

    1. Thank you, Crystal! Your kind words stir me.

      The thing is, I am writing a cookbook, true? Just…at one page per week. Still, the tome should be complete by 2046. 2048 at the latest.

      By then, there will be so many readers, similar to what your page enjoys. Someday, even, maybe from remotest Bhutan.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara!

      Yep, walnut trees thrive where it’s sunny, gets cooler at times, and is semi-arid (but not dry!). California and the mountainous Near East are two such places.

      If you’re like me, you’ll find pomegranate molasses online. If you spring for a bottle, tell me what you think, OK? Although, given your fondness for its keynote ingredient, I’m confident you’ll love it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Now, question is, Angela, where did we pick up the word?

      You figure, of the language’s 100,000 or so elements, what are the odds we’d choose the same one?

      Sounds like something “They” would make us do. That’s right, the mysterious “Them!” So powerful, yet “They” selected us for their manipulations, ahead of nine billion others. I say we get even and start a rumor, Angela!

      As for the walnut sauce, thank you, and it was delish! Too often, the northern Near East’s cuisine is overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors’. Not while this journal has anything to say about things, it isn’t!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No doubt, Angela.

        It’s more than a coincidence, I’m sure, that those who keep up with a blog are called “followers.” The same word applied to those caught up in a cult.

        Right now, we’re happy to read about dogs and hens. How much longer, though, before we’re convinced they’re deities, and that they speak only through you?

        It’s not hard to do. After all, notice how, with just a little effort, I’ve convinced people regular lemons (as opposed to Meyer lemons) are the Devil’s playthings.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a bunch, Jenn!

      I love it too, of course, hence you’ll see it in probably a third of the dishes that show up here. Of course, it doesn’t hurt there’s a disproportionate focus on East Asian and Latin American cuisines. As you know, both regions’ cooks love their cilantro!

      Actually, I usually switch it out for parsley, even when instructions call for the latter. Cilantro has a much more civilized taste profile, don’t you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Both are good observations, Jenn.

        I used to think many people’s distaste for cilantro was merely a matter of personal preference, but apparently some (from what I’ve read, a third of) people have a chromosome which, among other attributes, makes them think cilantro tastes like soap. It baffles to contemplate what the real-world value of such a characteristic would be, but there you have it.

        Fortunately, I’m not among the afflicted third, thus, I make sure the local produce manager has to order more cilantro every week. Gotta make up for the cilantro-haters, don’t you know?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Forcing a distaste for cilantro is a pretty odd characteristic for a gene to have, but there has to be some reason it survived millennia of evolution when so many other predilections disappeared ages ago.

        Maybe cilantro-haters will accomplish the dramatic someday, such as curing cancer, thus validating the trait, but so far I’m not seeing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What an interesting combination of flavors! Delicious I’m sure.

    I love walnuts but I found out the hard way that I do not like black walnuts. Once upon a time in Tennessee, the state, we went to a local breakfast place and I ordered black walnut waffles pancakes. They were wretched. Luckily stupid people like me are very common and the waitress understood. She allowed me to switch it out with pecan pancakes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JoAnn, would you believe I never have tried black walnuts? I would have qualified that by adding, “not to my knowledge, at least…” but from what I’ve heard (your story among them), the experience would have been…unforgettable.

      When my mother was a teen, her family got a bag of black walnuts. Not the ready-to-eat version one might find in stores, but the raw, unprocessed form one would find on trees. Anyway, by the time they finished extracting the nuts, their hands were black.

      Explains why you almost never see black walnuts in stores, either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. All I can say to that is, wow! Maybe they’re a regional delight… perhaps one has to grow up eating black walnuts to ever have a taste for them. In my opinion the flavor is just like regular walnuts except that they seem to have grown stale and moldy… like several years ago. 🤢

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Gotta say, JoAnn, you’re really tempting me here. As I passed a garbage truck on the way into the office this morning, I realized how egregiously we neglect rotten food. After all, mold gave us penicillin; why not dinner too?

        If squirrels won’t touch black walnuts, that’s just more for us!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s