Persian Olives in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce

For the symphonic complexity of Persian cuisine, with all of its rice pilafs bathed in saffron and rosewater, meats flavored with dozens of herbs and desserts made out of nuts and flowers, it’s the simplest dishes that illustrate most fully the imaginative riches of this venerable culinary tradition. It can be said that Persian cuisine is the closest relative to perfumery. It’s based on accords and notes.

One of the most popular accords is walnut and pomegranate. It’s a perfect harmony of sweet and sour, delicately smoky and fruity. You can build plenty on this base, but one of my favorite recipes is a simple blend of green olives in a walnut-pomegranate sauce. The dish is called zeytun parvardeh, which means preserved olives, but with the word “parvardeh” having the secondary meaning of “nourished,” it also makes me think of olives that have been well taken care of before they ended up on my plate. You will be too after tasting this dish.

Zeytun parvardeh originates from the north of Iran, but it’s now popular all over the country. Olives can be left whole or ground up with the rest of the ingredients to make the so-called Persian olive caviar. They can be flavored with fresh pomegranate or bitter orange juice, spices like angelica seeds, and herbs like thyme, pennyroyal or  blue eryngo (chuchagh in the local dialect). At the Grand Bazaar of Tehran one olive vendor had me taste a dozen varieties that were all based on the same walnut and pomegranate sauce but ranged dramatically in flavor, from sweet and fruity to spicy and salty.

Since today is Nowruz, the Persian New Year, I’m planning to lay a table with several favorite dishes, including these olives. So I would like to share my approximation of one version of zeytun parvardeh I tasted in Tehran. I prefer to leave the olives whole, because I love their intense salty bite foiled by the sweet and sour sauce.

On Nowruz, a holiday that marks the start of spring and fresh beginnings, I would like to wish all of you good health and much happiness.

P.S. If anyone has any idea where I can find chuchagh or Eryngium planum, also known as blue eryngo or flat sea holly, I’d be grateful. I got addicted to its spicy, bitter flavor in Iran, but I haven’t been able to locate it here in Europe.

Olives in Walnut-Pomegranate Sauce (Zeytun Parvardeh)

If you have bitter orange juice, substitute it for lemon. It will give a more complex flavor and fragrance. Pomegranate molasses are available from the Middle Eastern food stores. Pick the brand that includes nothing but pomegranate. Some brands also add a little bit of salt to their molasses, which is also fine.

Serves 4-6

1/2 lb (250g) green olives, pitted
1/3 cup (40g) walnuts
1 garlic clove
2-3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon fresh or dried pomegranate seeds, to decorate

Mix all ingredients except for olives and pomegranate seeds (if you’re using them for decoration) in a food processor and blend to a thick paste. Adjust the flavors to your taste, aiming for a tart flavor. Mix with olives and decorate with pomegranate seeds. The olives can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, and they taste even better the next day, once the flavors had a chance to develop.

Extra: here is another version of Zeytun Parvardeh from My Persian Kitchen in which the olives are sliced into small pieces.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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52 Comments

  • Richard Goller: Yum! This dish sounds and looks amazing. Thanks for sharing with us. March 20, 2017 at 10:36am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! Hope that you try it and enjoy it! March 20, 2017 at 12:10pm Reply

  • Sandra: This looks amazing.
    I am having some friends over to celebrate the Persian new year.
    I will make this, and I am planning on making a soup with lots of herbs.
    Do you have any good recipes that are not too advanced for a side dish to the soup? Like a rice dish or something along those lines? Open to suggestions, but I am vegetarian March 20, 2017 at 11:01am Reply

    • Victoria: What fun! I have this rice dish, but it might be a bit technical if you’ve never made this kind of steamed pilaf before:
      http://boisdejasmin.com/2009/05/pilaf-with-apricots-dates-and-saffron-shirin-plov-flavor-and-fragrance.html

      Or I suggest this dish. If you don’t have flattened rice, just use regular cooked and cooled rice instead.
      http://boisdejasmin.com/2013/01/indian-flattened-rice-pilaf-poha-mustard-seed-and-coconut.html March 20, 2017 at 12:12pm Reply

      • Sandra: Thank you!
        The first one sounds de-lish!
        Happy Spring, Happy New Year سال نو مبارک ! March 21, 2017 at 11:27am Reply

        • Victoria: May it be a beautiful spring! March 26, 2017 at 2:21pm Reply

      • Sandra: I made the first rice dish, my first time, and I was a bit nervous. It came out fantastic! Great with the soup, and also I served the olive dish and feta cheese with herbs and bread.
        Thanks again for pushing me out of my culinary comfort zone March 27, 2017 at 8:08am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so glad to hear it! Your meal really sounds splendid. 🙂 March 28, 2017 at 2:59am Reply

      • Sandra: I made the Shirin Plov rice again. I am in a Persian cooking mood these days.
        We hardly have any leftovers.

        I would love a Persian cookbook recommendation if you have time. Something that is not heavy on the meat (we are vegetarian) I have pomegranates and pine nuts which I get some inspiration from April 2, 2017 at 2:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so glad! I highly recommend The Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. Persian cuisine is quite meat heavy, but she includes vegetarian versions for all of the recipes. April 3, 2017 at 6:12am Reply

  • Kandice: I absolutely love green olives and want to try this! What do you serve this with typically? Is this normally an appetizer served with something else or a side dish? I’m also a vegetarian. Thanks so much for sharing this with us! March 20, 2017 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: You can serve it as an appetizer or along with cheese, fresh vegetables, bread. I usually eat them for breakfast wrapped in a tortilla or lavash with cucumber slices and mint leaves. They’re irresistible either way. March 20, 2017 at 12:14pm Reply

      • Kandice: Oh my gosh! That sounds fantastic! I will have to try the olives that way. That sounds great with the cucumber and mint. March 20, 2017 at 10:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: They’re really versatile! March 21, 2017 at 6:58am Reply

      • Doreen: What an amazing breakfast! March 21, 2017 at 7:46am Reply

        • Victoria: I prefer salty foods for breakfast, so that’s ideal. 🙂 March 21, 2017 at 8:10am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Good health and much happiness to you! I have the eryngium in my garden, it is a kind of thistle as you probably know, with a beautiful blue colour. I have never seen this for sale as a herb, but milk thistle is very easily available, it is also bitter herb, mostly used in tea as a liver cleanser. Maybe it could work as a stand in. March 20, 2017 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. What do you do with eryngium? Is it just for decoration? March 20, 2017 at 12:16pm Reply

      • Hamamelis: Most if not all plants in my garden are bee friendly, so that is the most important reason for having it. It looks stunning so it is for decoration too. But I will try and see if I can dry the leaves, is that what is used? And is it always dried? If my experiment is succesful I will send you some, but that will take a while, everything is still more or less underground! March 20, 2017 at 12:57pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it’s also used dried. Thank you! If it works out, I will make you a special herb blend to use in vegetable dishes. March 20, 2017 at 1:39pm Reply

  • Tiamaria: This sound delicious Victoria, thank you very much. I bought pomegranate molasses today for the first time for another recipe so I will definitely give this a go. I grow eryngium in the garden for decorative reasons but had no idea it could be used as a herb. I will have to check up what variety I have and see if it can be used this way. I learn so much on this site! March 20, 2017 at 3:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: There are so many different recipes for these olives that I have been making a new one almost every week, as I experimented with the most delicious combination.

      I have no idea eryngium is such a popular garden plant. Of course, there are lots of varieties, but apparently, the one I mentioned is a well-loved ingredient in the north of Iran. March 20, 2017 at 3:40pm Reply

  • SilverMoon: Happy New Year/Navroz Greetings to all!

    Victoria, this looks like a yummy recipe. One to try for sure. And I am imagining all the scents emanating from this dish. Mouth watering smells. March 20, 2017 at 3:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: And even better when you use fingers to crush herbs before adding them to the sauce. A lingering fragrance of mint and thyme…

      Happy New Year! March 20, 2017 at 3:59pm Reply

  • maja: Nowruz Mubarak!
    I am soo making this tomorrow. 🙂 March 20, 2017 at 5:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂
      Hope that you enjoy them! You can even use oregano or marjoram, which in your parts has the kind of the flavor that I remember from Iran. March 21, 2017 at 6:57am Reply

      • maja: I made it. I can’t believe how complex this is – salty, sweet, sour, pungent. Wow. Thank you. 💕 March 24, 2017 at 1:01pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear this! If you have bitter oranges on hand, do add some juice. March 26, 2017 at 2:21pm Reply

          • maja: They are blooming at the moment. And the blossom smells gorgeously. 💗 . March 28, 2017 at 6:52pm Reply

  • AndreaR: I love the food journeys you take us on. Olives in Walnut-Pomegrate sauce led me to My Persian Kitchen where I found Fish in Parchment Sauce and many other intriguing recipes.Lot’s of happy cooking and tasting will follow. Yum! March 20, 2017 at 7:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a wonderful blog. Another one I like is called Turmeric and Saffron. March 21, 2017 at 6:57am Reply

  • Eric: Sounds exquisite! I used to hate olives but now I can’t get enough. I’ll report back!

    I am curious though. Why dried instead of fresh for the herbs? March 20, 2017 at 11:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Dried herbs have a very different flavor, with mint muskier and smokier. Also, because fresh herbs spoil quickly, which for a pickle might be a problem. That being said, I do make these olives with fresh mint time to time, but I think that it tastes better if you add it just before serving. March 21, 2017 at 7:00am Reply

  • Jillie: I am so grateful to you for bringing new recipes to my attention – you help perk up jaded appetites! I will make this for my in-laws when they next visit (although I wonder if I can wait that long …..).

    Walnuts are not my favourite nut, but I like them in food such as this, where they add a savoury, bitter creaminess and crunch. I remember eating many different dishes containing walnuts on holiday in the Lebanon years ago, especially a lovely dip made of the ground nuts and cream cheese, with lots of cilantro, olive oil and garlic.

    Once I made marzipan with walnuts instead of almonds, and it was surprisingly good!

    As for olives – I will never cease to be amazed at how many types and flavours there are. And they are good for you and your skin! March 21, 2017 at 4:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Walnut marzipan sounds fantastic. I’ve made these olives with pistachios once, just for a change of pace, but while it was good, the flavor of pistachios is too mild to stand next olives. It’s better to use them for decoration.

      To be sure, you can use roasted almonds or hazelnuts instead. A very different recipe it will be, but a very good one nonetheless. March 21, 2017 at 7:02am Reply

      • Jillie: Those pale green pistachios look so pretty with the deep pink of the pomegranate seeds! Walnuts are not the most beautiful of nuts. March 21, 2017 at 7:30am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s not the walnuts that’s the problem, but the pomegranate molasses. Ground walnuts have a nice café au lait shade, but once you add pomegranate, it becomes brown. March 21, 2017 at 8:09am Reply

  • Doreen: This sounds amazing. I’ll have to try! I love the idea of perfumed foods. Have you ever tried this with Thyme or Mint essential oil? March 21, 2017 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too. But I’m not a fan of using essential oils in food. The quantity is hard to dose, and no essential oil compares to the flavor of actual herbs. March 21, 2017 at 8:07am Reply

      • Doreen: YEs – It is a totally different flavor experience. it’s interesting you note earlier that the dried herbs bring a smokiness. A depth! March 21, 2017 at 8:13am Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it’s fascinating to see how that note develops. I dry herbs like basil and mint on regular basis, and I start smelling the difference within a day. March 21, 2017 at 9:39am Reply

          • Doreen: Love that! March 21, 2017 at 11:54am Reply

  • AndreaR: Thank you! Such lovely pictures on Turmeric and Saffron. Food is a wonderful way of connecting with other cultures. I found their lentil and beet soup with little dumplings intriguing. I also enjoyed reading about their spring cleaning custom.I always think of Easter as the beginning of the new year. March 21, 2017 at 4:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Same here. Spring cleaning is something we also do before Easter. It feels like the right time for renewal. March 26, 2017 at 2:22pm Reply

  • Lydia: That looks wonderful!

    Belated Nowruz Mubarak! 🙂 March 23, 2017 at 1:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! And best wishes to you too! March 26, 2017 at 2:22pm Reply

  • Keyvan Mashhadi: You’re way more Iranian than me!
    I seldom comment, but your way of description – which you know how much I adore – and precision of your sight makes me comment here. I have nothing to add but greatly thank you for such beautiful recipe and post.

    But since I’m originally from north of Iran allow me add a small hint to your recipe. The true sauce is a mixture of sweet pomegranate sauce + sour pomegranate sauce + bitter orange sauce which are light brown, dark brown, and pitch black in color, respectively.

    Thank you a galaxy
    Happy Nowrouz and spring to you and to all 🙂
    Keyvan March 26, 2017 at 11:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Keyvan jan. Many happy wishes for the New Year to you too. I will try your version of the recipe too, but it might be hard to get bitter orange sauce outside of Iran. Last year I made some, and I used it in so many dishes. Unfortunately, the Iranian stores don’t carry it in Belgium.

      Do you have any idea about this herb, چوچاق or شوشاق? Do you use it in your cooking? March 26, 2017 at 2:27pm Reply

      • Keyvan Mashhadi: Let me if I can send some bitter orange sauce for you. My family will come to visit us a month later. I ask them to bring then we share it 😉

        Shushagh (Gilak accent) or chuchagh (formal Persian accent) is a mandatory in many recipes of north side. As you know northern culture is based more on vegetables and sour foods so a variety of aromatic herbs may come in handy. But precisely, I’m not sure what foods or appetizers include it. March 27, 2017 at 12:49am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you so much, Keyvan. What a kind offer. I only hope that it’s not a trouble for you. March 28, 2017 at 3:00am Reply

          • Keyvan Mashhadi: Not at all. I’ll let you know when it’s ready. March 28, 2017 at 10:37am Reply

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