I’ll be the first to admit that, when it comes to food, I’m terribly susceptible to kicks. In my third year of graduate school, when I taught the horrible 8-9 a.m. section of a reading and writing class, I used to get up at 5:54 a.m. everyday to make myself stove-top oatmeal with banana and peanut butter. During the summer of my great house-sitting adventure in Kensington, I would eat Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta like it was going out of style. Some weeks I’m all about trying out new whole grains; during others, I move from a Turkish and Greek mix one night to German spaetzle a few days later. I sometimes wonder if I’m nothing but fickle–a food dilettante of the worst possible kind, hopelessly adrift in an eternal quest for new recipes and flavors.
But then I think that that, no, there’s method to my madness, or at least a good reason for it. When you study something like Russian literature, after all, you find yourself immersed in what essentially amounts to only two centuries of literature (yes, some of these texts just may happen to be the world’s longest novels, but they pretty much come from two and half decades in the nineteenth century); you’re constantly reading the same authors, you’re constantly citing the same critics–the big names, if you will–and you keep circling back to the same themes. This description could also easily apply to a dissertation, which, although it’s initially exciting, quickly becomes an exercise in rethinking the same thing over and over again until it becomes “good enough” to pass the censors. Given the way that my life has tended to circle around the same figures and topics for the past 10 years (I was an undergraduate Russian major, too), it only makes sense that, in other aspects of my life, I just so happen to seek novelty.

Recently, the thing that has been giving me non-Slavic comfort is the world of Persian cooking. I first stumbled upon a recipe for an irresistible (at least to me) cake in an Ottolenghi article (a post on this cake is coming soon) and, after making it, I suddenly wanted to know more about these flavors–dried lime, sumac, halva, saffron, pomegranates–which seemed both familiar and strange to me in this new context in which I was encountering them. Also, the philosophy of Persian cooking–that there are “hot” and “cold” foods, as well as “hot” and “cold” natures, and that people with a cold nature should eat more hot foods (figs, grapes, dates) and vice versa–is really intriguing to me. I don’t have enough information to glean what category I fall into, but I look forward to attempting to figure it out. Given the depth of my interest and the fact that I signed up for a cooking class in mid-May, I can’t help but think that this particular obsession might just stick….
 In fact, my quest for more information led me to Louisa Shafia’s blog, Lucid Food, and her new cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen, which comes out this Tuesday. Fortunately, for me, a person who doesn’t get preview copies of cookbooks in the mail (oh, if only!), I’m a savvy enough internet user to be able to find posts by the bloggers who are responsible for promoting the book. And so I’ve tried the book’s Smoky Beet Burgers,  a very tasty carrot salad and, the topic of today’s post, the Majoon, or Date Shake (Smoothie) with Toasted Nuts and Seeds.

It just may be that I have a cold nature, which is why I’m so taken with this drink. Or it may simply be that my breakfast/snack routine needed a good wake up call and this date smoothie came along at the right time to fill a void. No matter what the reason, I can’t seem to get enough of this thing called Majoon. I’ve always liked dates, but their texture, which has always reminded me of both the cockroaches that would occasionally creep under the dorm room doors in New York City and the glazed locusts on a stick I saw at the Beijing night market back in 2007, has not always proven all that appetizing to me. With Majoon, however, you get the wonderful natural sweetness of the dates with none of the negative textural associations (my apologies to my more squeamish readers). It’s a lovely way to start a warm and sunny spring morning when you almost can’t bear the thought of drinking a cup of hot coffee. If the flavor and coolness of the smoothie weren’t enough to grab your attention, let me assure you that the toasted nuts, seeds and coconut that you put on top is worth the trouble of pulling the blender out of the cupboard in the morning. Or if dates don’t happen to be your thing (and the Greek, a hater of dates, just happens to like this smoothie a lot), just make the topping; you’ll find plenty of ways to use it. A little texture can go a long way.

Majoon, or Date Smoothie with Toasted Nuts
yields 2-4 servings
adapted from Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen, via Epicurious.com
I should confess that I have yet to make this drink according to the recipe as it was written and I’ve since made it three times (yes, it really is a keeper). The first time I made it, I opted to go the vegan route, holding the yogurt and instead using up some almond milk that I had bought for the sake of variety. I really couldn’t taste the dates, which I found to be somewhat disappointing. I believe that if something is called a Date Smoothie, then it should taste like dates. The second time I made it was my favorite; I used 12 dates instead of the suggested 8, thereby guaranteeing the date flavor. I also held the banana (an accident, but I think the banana masks the taste of the dates) and used milk instead of water. The last time I made this smoothie was the Greek’s favorite; this may be because I used only 10 dates (you wouldn’t believe it, but it was less date-y) and again held the banana. This version was thinner, since I used about 1 cup of milk. The moral of the story is that you can either amp up the flavor of the dates or, by adding the banana, make it less central to the overarching flavor. As with all recipes, play with it and see what works for you; isn’t that half the fun of cooking?
         I’ll give two variants below–the vegan version and a cross between my favorite version and the Greek’s. Happy drinking.
For the Toasted Topping:
4-5 tablespoons each of sesame seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes, coarsely chopped almonds, coarsely chopped walnuts and coarsely chopped pistachios
Preheat the oven to 300 F. 
Once warm, add the chopped nuts, coconut and sesame seeds. 
Let toast for 8-10 minutes, then remove from oven and set aside.
Vegan version:
8 Medjool dates, pitted
1 frozen banana, peeled
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon and sea salt
2 cups ice cubes
about 1-2 tablespoons of the toasted topping, as a garnish
OR
Dairy-friendly version
10-12 Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 cup plain yogurt 
Pinch of cinnamon and sea salt 
1 tablespoon each of toasted pistachios, toasted walnuts, toasted sesame seeds, toasted coconut and toasted almonds
2 cups ice cubes
3/4 cup milk
1-2 tablespoons of the toasted topping
-Place all of the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. 
-If the mixture seems too thick, add either more almond milk or milk (or water) to thin it out to the desired consistency.  
-Pour into a glass and top with clusters of the toasted nut/seed mixture (it looks prettiest if you decorate the top of the smoothie with clusters of each individual ingredient). 
-Enjoy!

7 thoughts on “Persian Flavors and A Little Morning Date

  1. Hi Katy, thanks for such a lovely post about my recipes! I'm also a big fan of Ottolenghi, and I love that he has helped to draw attention to Persian ingredients. Warmly, Louisa

  2. You really don't like milkshakes? I'm not always that into cold drinks either (I'm known for drinking hot toddies in the summer, although only in air-conditioned places), but I find this one to be really refreshing. That or my tastes are starting to change in my old age. 🙂

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Louisa, and also for the great recipe! I'm definitely excited to be sharing some information about Persian cooking here; it's always fun to try something new. It really helps you to grow as a cook.

    And three cheers for Ottolenghi; I love how versatile and inspiring he is.

  4. Oh, how lovely! I am a kick kind of person too. So far the real sticking ones have been grains and greens, but I am also getting a little obsessed with shaved asparagus these days (of all things!) I am super jealous of your cooking class! Hope you have an awesome time, and many happy breakfasts:)

  5. Well, it is looking great and I have listened a lot about it as well. I have not taken it yet, but I wish I could have it. It is really looking so yummy and I am very much sure this desert must be adding sweetness for both man and woman in their dating.

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