August 21, 2014

Ranginak - Persian Date Dessert (Recipe #2)

We are in the midst of خرما پزان - khorma pazan season, a term used by locals in the south of Iran when the temperature reaches its peak of 100+ degrees Fahrenheit combined with an elevated humidity above 60 percent, thus making outdoor activities unbearable. However, it's due to this intense heat that dates become fully ripened/"cooked" while on the tree and ready for harvest. This recipe is an ode to the traditional Khuzestani-style رنگینک ranginak, a delicious date and walnut dessert. This is an easy recipe that requires just a little bit of patience to stuff the plump pitted dates with lightly toasted walnuts, arrange them onto a platter and slather them with a warm mixture of melted butter and flour infused with cardamom and cinnamon. The sweet taste of ranginak brings back memories of home.

Dates have been a part of the Persian cuisine for hundreds of years. The palm dates grow southward along the Persian Gulf and the warm regions of Ilam, Bushehr, Fars, Khuzestan, Sistan & Baluchestan and Kerman. To most people, pomegranates may be considered the national fruit of Iran but in my opinion dates are the national fruit of Khuzestan! Many years have gone by since I lived there but it's the many images and memories that still run through my mind. I remember Khoramshar's vast fields of date palms, the stacks of tin buckets filled with dates in small shops, barely-ripe or half-ripe bunches of dates spread about on the woven mat and then of course my mother's date dessert.

Dates were a snack for when we got home from school back then and now whether they are fresh, dried, large or small, dates will go perfectly with your hot cup of tea anytime of the day. They are so addictive that you'll be tempted to reach for a date with every sip and let the sweetness of the dates mingle with the aroma and slightly bitter taste of the strong, freshly brewed loose leaf chai. Dates are naturally sweet and substantially tastier than any other sweet fruits and they come in many different varieties and depending on when they are harvested dates may range from unripe to partially ripe or fully ripe.

I wrote my mother's version of this recipe a long time ago which is a bit less time consuming than this version. In that recipe, instead of stuffing the dates one by one, you would combine them together and heat them through before you add the butter and flour mixture since you don't need to one by one stuff the dates with walnuts. My mother's approach to cooking was a no-fuss, no-frills way of cooking. On an ordinary day she had to prepare meals for her large family and cooking was the only thing that she did not like to delegate at all.


Makes about 24 pieces

1 pound dates, pitted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup walnuts, halves
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
2-3 tablespoons pistachios, finely crushed


  1. Toast walnuts in a small dry skillet for 3-5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant. remove Stuff the toasted walnuts into the cavity of the dates.
  2. In medium sized skillet toast the flour for about 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the edges turn a light golden brown. 
  3. Add the butter and cook for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and sugar, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.
  4. Spread 1/2 of the batter on the bottom of the serving platter and arrange the stuffed dates in a single layer on the dish.
  5. Spread the remaining batter over the dates, gently press down. Garnish with pistachios. Let cool for a couple of hours.
Serve with hot tea.


August 10, 2014

Estamboli Polow - Persian Tomato Rice with Potatoes

This recipe is perfect all year round since most pantries are always stocked with fresh tomatoes and canned tomato products. However, I waited for the weather to warm up and for the peak tomato season to arrive to hopefully cook with vine-ripened tomatoes and not the dull and tasteless tomatoes that are picked green. This recipe is loosely based on my grandmother's recipe who was known for her delicious cooking. For a more tart استامبولی پلو - estamboli polow recipe, I searched the vegetable markets for a good torsh (tangy) tomato but to no avail. Among all the different varieties of tomatoes that were available I settled on the beefsteak tomatoes due to their great flavor. I prefer outdoor cooking in the hot summer months and try to minimize my standing in the kitchen as much as I can but this tomato rice is a perfect summer dish that goes well with grilled chicken, fish or vegetables.

There are many recipes for estamboli polow from plain tomato rice to a rice complete with meat and green beans, depending on what part of the country you are from and how this was prepared in your home. For us, growing up in Khuzestan, estamboli meant کته تماته/گوجه فرنگی - kateh-ye tamate which is slow-cooked rice in tomato puree with the addition of small cubed potatoes using the long and narrow type of potato called estamboli in Iran. For a simpler estamboli you can even make it without adding the cubed potatoes. If you prefer a less acidic dish you can skip the tomato paste. Ultimately, it depends on your taste, diet, and food restrictions.

Estamboli Polow

Serves 4

2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed well and drained
7 ripe medium tomatoes, blanched and peeled
6 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, diced
1-2 tablespoons organic tomato paste (for added color and a bit of an extra sour flavor) *optional
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
A good pinch of crushed red pepper
Vegetable oil or butter


  1. In a pot of boiling water blanch the tomatoes for 5 minutes or until the skin comes off. Let cool, remove the skin, core the tomatoes and puree using a food processor. Yields about four cups.
  2. In a medium bowl wash the rice thoroughly until completely clean, drain completely. 
  3. In a mixing bowl combine the well-drained rice with the tomato puree, mix well and let it soak for 20-30 minutes before cooking the rice. Do not drain.
  4. In a large pan, heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat, add the onions, cook until golden. 
  5. Add the potatoes, cook for about 5-7 minutes or until golden on all sides. add turmeric and a pinch of salt. Stir well.
  6. Push the potatoes to the side and add the tomato paste in the center of the pan and cook for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently using a wooden spoon until it changes color. 
  7. Remove the pan away from the heat source, add the rice and tomato mixture to the pot, add 1/4 cup of water, 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of red pepper, stir well.
  8. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil. Stir. Reduce the heat, cover the lid with a paper towel or a clean dish cloth, close the lid tightly and cook on low heat for 40 minutes. Over cooking and adding too much water makes the rice too mushy.
Serve with plain yogurt or  mast o khiar, sabzi khordan with a bunch of fresh mint, and salad shirazi.