A couple of months ago, we took a journey to one of our community markets to see what we could find in terms of Middle Eastern food. It was time to do another Ethnic Exploration post, and we knew exactly what we wanted–Persian. The timing was perfect. It was the Spring Equinox, which just so happened to coincide with the Persian New Year, Nowruz. There are a number of Persian dishes that strike the fancy such as fesenjaan, shirin polow, kebabs, halva, etc. We decided to go with one that we’d never had before, but seemed to be a popular one all over the Internet. Some call it Persian fudge, although that term does not seem quite appropriate. It’s a very sweet treat that combines dates, walnuts and spices in one little bite.
We chose to pay a visit to Avakian’s Grocery in Glendale. It was an uncharacteristically hot day for the spring season, so the midday drive to the location was toasty. On the way, we reviewed the list of products to pick up–dates and walnuts. Nothing crazy, you’re right, but you never know what you may find at ethnic markets. Plus, this was a new spot that we had never heard of before, so why not pay a visit. Sometimes the prices for items are much cheaper, and of course, the selection of specific ingredients will go much farther than the mainstream grocery store. Oh, and there are times we just buy things on impulse, so why not venture out and see what you can find.
Avakian’s proved to be a trove of treasures. We had no idea that it was the first, and thereby oldest, Middle Eastern market in Glendale with just over 35 years of history. Imported Arabian, Persian, Arabic, Greek and Italian foods are easy to find. We stumbled over fresh and inexpensive produce, canned octopus, freshly ground spices such as savory and caraway, a variety of dairy products including fresh feta, Arabic puck cream and sarshir (Iranian whipped breakfast cream), dried fruits and nuts, candies, flavored syrups, jarred pastes and relishes, a number of flours and quality honey, jams and preserves.
The store is quite small and compact, but it is packed with so many different foods that you’ll find yourself poking around longer than expected. Everything in there speaks to the mix of European, Middle Eastern and Eurasian cultures that live in the city of Glendale and surrounding areas. We went in there with a list–a short list, but a list nonetheless. Distracted by the potential ingredients to try, we milled around the store picking up bottles, jars and bags and chatting with the owner. Unfortunately, the visit had to come to an end, so we grabbed the few items we needed to work on our recipe.
We grabbed a few scoops of fresh, raw walnuts and an oversized pack of pitted dates, along with a jar of fig jam…just because. At the register, the extremely nice owner and his song chatted with us about what we were making. When we told them the word ranginak, they looked confused, so we just said “Persian date cake”. There seemed to be recognition of the dish, and we were told to invite them over for the next time we made it. It’s always good to make friends in new places!
Avakian’s Grocery & Deli
1100 South Glendale Avenue
Glendale, CA 91205
We chose this dessert because it was no fuss and no bake. Ranginak is a simple dessert featuring dates stuffed with walnuts, a coating of cooked flour and better and a topping of nuts. Never ones to follow anyone’s recipe to the word, we added honey for flowery sweetness, orange zest for zing and almonds and coconut for a super crunchy topping.
Ranginak – Serves 16 (inspired by Eating Out Loud)
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
30 pitted dates
1 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cups flour
Zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, finely chopped
1. Stuff each date with a walnut half. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Set aside. Mix the almonds and coconut in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Add butter, honey, zest and flour to a sauce pan and melt over medium high heat, stirring often until light brown in color, approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir in the salt.
3. Pour about 1/3 of the mixture into a 8″ square cake pan. Top with the stuffed dates and spread out into a single layer, then pour remaining liquid over the fruit.
4. Sprinkle the sugar mixture on top followed by the coconut and almonds. Press evenly on top. Cool for 1-2 hours before cutting.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.