It’s time for a trip to the delicately balanced, aromatic foods of Persia. Strictly speaking, Ranginak isn’t a baked dish – it’s cooked in a skillet, not an oven – but it’s a dessert made from a flour/butter/sugar mixture as found in many Western baked goods, so I’ll stretch a point. Ranginak gets described as a sort of Persian date and walnut fudge, but it’s much better than that because it isn’t overpoweringly sugary: cut into small chunks, it makes for a lovely, scented, sweet-but-not-too-sweet bite of deliciousness.
Ranginak is famous as a festive dessert in Iran: the name means “colourful”, which is mildly dubious since it’s basically brown until you add garnish. There are many regional variations, the most improbable of which comes from a seventeenth century Isfahan recipe and involves dressing the completed product with rice pudding. I’ve gone for a simple one, starting from a recipe in the lovely Persian website Turmeric and Saffron and adding in the odd bit from my Persian cookery bible, Margaret Shaida’s The Legendary Cuisine of Persia. As usual, I’ve given some details and turned most measurements into metric: I just find it easier to measure things accurately with a set of digital scales than with measuring spoons and cups.
I’ve halved the recipe, since we’re still in lockdown here in London and I don’t really want to make giant desserts if I’m not sure they’re going to freeze properly. The amounts here are about right for a round dish 15cm in diameter: adjust to suit whatever size dish you are going to use.
Ingredients, in order of use
- 50g walnut halves
- 200g dates
- 125g flour
- 125g butter
- 20g icing sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- A free pistachios, shelled and unsalted, to garnish
If you talk to anyone Iranian, they will tell you that Persian produce (walnuts, dates, melons, garlic, saffron, etc) is different from everyone else’s – and, of course, superior. This starts out by being incredibly irritating until you try things out and come to the inevitable conclusion that for the most part, they are simply stating correct information. Or nearly, anyway: Omani dates are as good as the Persian products, Chilean walnuts and Kashmiri saffron likewise. But you get the idea: if you can find a Persian food shop for your dates and walnuts, it’s a good idea.
In the more likely event that you don’t have access to a Persian shop: most supermarket walnuts will be fine, but the quality of the dates is important: the rock hard ones that you often see in oblong cardboard packets will be hard to work with and yield a disappointing result. Make sure the dates are soft. If they’re pitted, that will save you effort.
- Choose a shallow dish just large enough to hold your dates laid flat; grease it with a bit of melted butter.
- In a dry pan on medium heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant but not yet burning (should be 3 minutes or so). Take them off the heat.
- While the walnuts are cooling, take the stones out of the dates (if this hasn’t already been done for you).
- In a bowl, mix the icing sugar, cinnamon powder and cardamom powder.
- Once the walnuts are no longer too hot to touch, cut each piece in half so that you now have walnut quarters. Stuff a walnut quarter into the cavity of each date.
- In a pan on medium heat, toast the flour until it’s just beginning to go pale brown and smell aromatic (around 5 minutes).
- Add the butter and mix thoroughly as it melts. Now cook for around 10-15 minutes until your mixture is a medium butterscotch kind of colour. Don’t let it go as far as dark brown.
- Add the spiced sugar and mix thoroughly, then pour the mixture into your dish. Leave to cool for long enough that you’re not going to burn your fingers in the next step.
- Now lay out the stuffed dates on the mixture, and sprinkle some chopped pistachios. If you’re of an artistic bent (and especially if you’re doubling or trebling this recipe), you’ve got scope for some fun here. Sadly, I’m not, but there are plenty of pretty photos online to give you the idea.
- Leave to set, which should take a couple of hours at normal room temperature. If it’s a hot day and you’re in a hurry, you’ll probably want the Ranginak to spend part of the time in the fridge.
Traditionally, Ranginak is served with tea. Personally, I like going cross-cultural and serving a piece with a scoop of pistachio ice-cream. But I’ll leave that one to you…