This Iranian dish, traditionally made with duck, illustrates how well cinnamon reconciles sweet and sour tastes. Made here with leaner game hens, it is a good alternative to turkey.
• 2 game hens, 20 ounces each
• 1 teaspoon butter
• 1/2 cup chopped onions
• 1 three-inch stick of cinnamon or cassia bark, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 cup pomegranate juice, or 1/4 cup of pomegranate concentrate plus 3/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
• Juice of 1/2 lemon
• 1 to 3 teaspoons sugar, to taste
• Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
• 4 walnut halves
1. Remove the neck and giblets and save them for another purpose. With a sharp, heavy knife, cut the game hens in half lengthwise. Rinse them inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Remove any visible fat.
2. In a heavy lidded pan, brown the pieces in the butter, turning frequently, until golden. Transfer them to a plate.
3. Sauté the onions in the butter until soft. Add the meat and the remaining ingredients except the walnut halves. Cover the pan and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Gently turn the pieces several times during this period and add water as needed to maintain 1 cup of liquid.
4. Transfer the meat to a warm platter. Remove as much of the melted fat as possible with a large spoon or gravy separator. Measure the remaining pan juice—it should be fairly thick. If it’s too thin, boil it down to a syrupy consistency.
5. Pour a little juice over the meat and place a walnut half on each piece. Serve immediately with the extra juice on the side.
Cornelia Carlson is an herb gardener and food writer in Valley Center, California. Her latest book is The Practically Meatless Gourmet (Berkeley Books, 1996).
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