For me, there is something so special about this dish as it marks the beginning of Autumn by celebrating the season’s bounty.
Every year I find myself eagerly looking forward to the arrival of Fall and its seasonal produce: from an amazing variety of squashes including the sweet and tender butternut squash, to fruit like persimmons, quince, and pomegranate, and above all the extraordinarily flavorful Persian golden plums, known as Aloo Zard. These plums are golden in color and have a unique tart flavor which wins the hearts of all Iranians.
This dish celebrates Autumn in style and when you think about it what’s not to love about the range of flavors! Chicken is patiently simmered alongside brightly colored butternut squash and the Persian golden plums. The broth is all about simplicity and yet offers a mouthwatering combination of tart lime juice balanced with a touch of sugar, finished off with a splash of bloomed saffron for good measure!
This year on October 2nd, the 196th day of the Persian calendar, Iranians celebrated Mehregan festival, an ancient Zoroastrian and Persian Festival of Autumn.
Mehregan is an ancient celebration dedicated to Mehr (or Mithra/Mitra), the symbol of light, friendship, love, and kindness. Mehregan is also a celebration of harvest and abundance. It is celebrated each year at the beginning of Autumn, on the 16th day of Mehr, the 7th month of the Persian solar calendar.
Think of the Mehregan celebration much like the Thanksgiving celebration in the US. It is a time to rejoice and offer gratitude for abundance, friendships, food and time spent with family and loved ones.
Khoresh Kadu Halvaee
- 5 tablespoons ghee or olive oil, divided
- 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 4 chicken pieces, thighs and breasts
- 1 1/2 cups hot water, adjust as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, ground
- 2 tablespoons sugar, adjust to your taste
- 1 fresh lime, juiced
- 1 cup dried Persian golden plums, or pitted prunes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1/2 cup walnuts, shelled
- In a large dutch oven sauté the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of ghee on medium heat for 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- To the same pot add 2 additional tablespoons of ghee and saute the onions on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and turmeric and continue to saute for 10 minutes. Be sure to rotate the chicken so that it can be lightly browned on both sides.
- Add the hot water, cover and reduce the flame, and cook the chicken for 30 minutes.
- Add the butternut squash, cinnamon, salt, pepper, sugar, lime juice, and golden plums, continue to cook covered for another 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.
- While the stew is simmering, gently saute the walnuts with 1 tablespoon of ghee in a small frying pan for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Once the chicken is tender, pour in the saffron water and gently stir and remove from the heat. Allow the stew to rest for 5 minutes before transferring to a serving platter.
- Sprinkle the walnuts over the top and serve hot with Persian steamed basmati rice or Persian flatbreads.