Along the Grapevine


Vegetarian Fesenjun with Sumac


I thought the sumac fesenjun was so good it would be worth trying as a vegetarian dish. The sauce itself has enough flavour that not much was required to replace the chicken. The recipe I came up with is easy to prepare, nutritious, and really delicious. I simply used a mixture of buckwheat and green lentils with seasoning. The balls can be prepared and frozen, with or without the sauce. First, a couple of points about the ingredients I used.


puy lentils and buckwheat groats

Buckwheat is not wheat, it contains no gluten, and is not even really a grain, although it serves the same purpose in cooking. It is a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel making it a good substitute for people sensitive to wheat or other grains containing protein gluten. Health benefits are just too numerous to list here, but it is easy to find sources describing this ‘superfood’ if you are interested. I recommend this blog for more information and great recipes. I used groats rather than the roasted groats often associated with kasha. Either will work here. The unroasted groats seen here are pale tan to green where the roasted ones are a darker brown.

Green lentils, or puy lentils are what I chose to use in this recipe. They take a little longer to cook than most other lentils, but have a nutty flavour and colour (they turn brown when cooked), and firm texture which worked well for this particular recipe. However, feel free to use other lentils if that is more convenient.

Sumac molasses is a substitute for pomegranate molasses, so if you don’t have access to the former, you can easily subsitute it with the latter.


walnuts and sumac molasses

Recipe for Vegetarian Fesenjun with Sumac Molasses

1 cup green (puy) lentils

1 cup buckwheat groats

salt and pepper to taste

oil for frying

1 onion, chopped

1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup sumac molasses.


onion and walnuts


walnuts, onions and sumac molasses

To make the balls: Cook the lentils in water until they are soft and almost all the water is aborbed. (They will continue to absorb more water as they cool, so don’t drain them completely if there is still a lot of water after cooking). Prepare the buckwheat as you would rice, or according to package instructions. Mix the cooked lentils and buckwheat together until they are thoroughly combined, season with salt and pepper and roll them into balls (this recipe makes 16 balls of about 2 in. in diameter). To make the sauce:  Fry the chopped onion until soft, add the chopped walnuts and fry another 2 minutes. Add the molasses and remove from heat. Pour the sauce over the prepared balls, and place in a 350 F oven until warmed through – about 1/2 hour. Because there is already buckwheat in the recipe, I chose to serve them simply with steamed and sauteed vegetables.



Sumac Recipes


Since I posted my first recipe for sumac in the early summer, I have had time to figure out other ways in which to use this lemony goodness. The sumac I refer to is the Staghorn Sumac. Unlike the sumac with white flowers, it is not poisonous. However, try a little at first, as some people may have allergies to it.

First, I made dried sumac powder. I have been buying this for years from Middle Eastern and Asian shops, and always wondered if I could duplicate it with our own sumac.  So that is one puzzle solved. I generally use it in place of lemon in spicy curries, tagine, soups etc, but always parsimoniously because it is hard to find. Now I can use it with abandon.

To make the powder, simply pick or scrape off the berries, and place them on a cookie sheet in a 175 F oven until they feel completely dry.  This will take probably 4 to 6 hours, depending on how much space they have. I prefer to err on the side of too long, and keep an eye on them. Then put them in a food processor or blender and chop them up as finely as possible, and pass them through a sieve.

Dried sumac

My next project was sumac molasses. Not really molasses, but I wanted to replace my pomegranate molasses with something made from local ingredients. I used 6 cups of firmly packed fresh sumac berries, covered them in water and pressed them tightly down so that I would need the minimum amount of water. I simmered them covered for about half an hour to an hour. I strained off the liquid and added it to 1 cup of brown sugar, then simmered it until all the sugar was dissolved.

The purpose for this ‘molasses’ was for use in some Middle Eastern recipes, and in particular a Persian recipe called Fesenjun. I was first introduced to this by my father when he returned from working in Iran, and I later learned to make different versions of it myself. It is simply a sauce made of walnuts and pomegranate juice (or molasses) cooked with duck, chicken, and I believe other meats.


I used a whole chicken because that is what I had to work with, but pieces or fillets would work just as well. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.


1 chicken

oil for frying

2 onions, diced

1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground

1 cup sumac molasses

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chicken on all sides in some oil in a roasting pan. Remove the chicken, pour out any excess oil except a little to which you add the onions. Fry until soft and add the walnuts. Fry for another two minutes. Add the sumac and salt and pepper. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and place in a preheated oven at 325 F. It took about two hours, and the last half hour I removed the lid.


Traditionally this is served with rice, but I had potatoes, pickled plums and mixed steamed greens from the garden. I am pleased to report that the sumac molasses worked very well with this recipe. All the ingredients, except the walnuts, were locally grown, but I hope soon to gather some local black walnuts which will make this a truly Ontario, albeit Persian-inspired, dish.