Anar Bij is a hearty and flavor-packed dish from Gilan province in the Caspian Sea region of Iran. Delicate meatballs are gently cooked in a creamy walnut sauce that is then flavored with fresh herbs and pomegranate molasses. Tart flavors, aromatics, and a hint of sweetness combine to make this dish another poster child of Persian cuisine!
If you are familiar with Persian cuisine you will notice similarities between this dish and the highly popular Fesenjoon, a stew of chicken cooked in walnut and pomegranate sauce. Two things set this dish apart, however: the chicken is replaced by meatballs, and fresh herbs create an added depth of flavor.
The choice of herbs and the total quantity of them vary from region to region and family to family. For this recipe, I have selected herbs that are readily available in the US but also deliver the familiar flavors of my childhood.
As to the meatballs, it is traditional to make them quite small, about the size of a hazelnut, or maybe a walnut. I have written this recipe with that in mind, but solely for the photographs I made one large meatball to highlight a single portion serving.
- 3 cups walnuts, finely ground
- 3 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground, divided
- 1 pound ground beef, or lamb
- 1 small onion, grated, juices squeezed out
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper, ground
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 cup finely chopped parsley, about 2 bunches
- 1 cup finely chopped cilantro, about 2 bunches
- 1/2 cup finely chopped mint, about 1 bunch
- 8 green onions, finely chopped. Or 4 tablespoons dried Persian Tarreh
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, amount will vary from brand to brand
- Using a food processor, grind the walnuts to a fine powder and set aside. Using the same food processor, finely chop the herbs one batch at a time and set aside.
- Place the ground walnuts, water, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric in a large pot and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should notice how the oil will naturally separate from the ground walnuts and collect on the surface.
- While the walnuts are simmering, prepare the meatballs.
- Place the ground meat, grated onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric in a medium sized bowl and mix well.
- Form the mixture into meatballs about the size of a walnut and set aside.
- Select a large frying pan, add oil and saute the meatballs on medium heat to lightly brown them and firm them up, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set them aside.
- Once the walnuts have simmered for 30 minutes, add the meatballs, the herbs and the pomegranate molasses. Cover and simmer over low heat for an additional 30 minutes.
- Adjust the seasoning to your taste depending on the tartness or sweetness of your pomegranate molasses.
- Serve with Persian steamed rice or flat breads along with a platter of fresh herbs.