Date Shake with Toasted Nuts
Adventures in Cooking My Cookbook Collection: The New Persian Kitchen
This past week, my family sought relief from the punishing heat by making our way to as many bodies of water as we could. Most memorably, we enjoyed an early evening dip in the Atlantic Ocean and watched the sun set over Coney Island. And with thanks to friends who invited us for a visit to their bungalow colony upstate, we took a soul-reviving soak in a perfect New York lake.
On the scorching days when jumping in water wasn’t an option, this Date Shake with Toasted Nuts helped cool things down considerably. I came across the recipe while flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks: The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia (Penguin Random House, 2013). It looked so simple and so refreshing, that I scrapped my original plans for this week’s newsletter and decided to write the latest installment of Adventures in Cooking My Cookbook Collection instead.
I have been a fan of Shafia’s work for nearly a decade, and her cookbook was a huge inspiration to me while I was working on Modern Jewish Cooking. I love the vibrant and joyful design, the way she weaves personal stories into the recipes, and her fresh approach to a traditional cuisine.
More recently, I’ve also been inspired by her online store, Feast By Louisa, which sells a curated collection of Persian spices, teas, sweets, and cooking tools, many of which are created by women makers and farmers.
Shafia’s love of Persian cuisine is rooted in her own family history. Her father is an Iranian Muslim who immigrated to America in the early 1960s. In the States, he met her mother, an American with Eastern European Jewish ancestry, and they settled in the Philadelphia suburbs. Shafia told me that it was difficult to grow up straddling the two divergent sides of her identity, but that food was one place where everything made sense.
The New Persian Kitchen follows suit, including several recipes that tie together her Jewish and Persian heritages. There are gondi, the chickpea-flour balls that Persian Jews often serve in chicken broth for Passover. (Shafia calls them “Persian matzo balls.”) There are the date and walnut cookies called koloocheh typically shared with friends on Purim. And there is a dish of basmati rice with sour cherries and almonds. In the headnote, Shafia notes that if you cannot find fresh sour cherries, you can look for bottled versions in Eastern European food shops.
As a chef whose work has often centered around health and sustainability, Shafia found ways to breathe new life into traditional Persian dishes. One of my favorite dishes in the book (jeweled brown basmati rice and quinoa) has all the color, crunch, and contrast of classic jeweled rice, but with an extra dose of nutritional heft.
To research her cookbook, Shafia traveled to Los Angeles, which is home to a large Persian community (both Jewish and not) - including many members of her father’s extended family. Her aunts, uncles, and cousins opened their homes and kitchens to her, generously sharing recipes like baghali polo (rice with fava beans and dill), along with family stories.
While in California, she also tasted the decadent date shakes served at Café Glacé - a well known Persian-American restaurant in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood. Not surprisingly, she was hooked.
Date Shakes: A California (and Persian) Specialty
Date shakes, which blend together sweet dates with vanilla ice cream and milk, are a bonafide *thing* in Southern California. The state is is responsible for more than 90 percent of America’s date production, with the Coachella Valley as the lead date-growing region.
There are competing origin stories for the date shake, but most food historians say it was first concocted by a date farmer in the 1930s as a way to popularize (and therefore sell more of!) the sweet palm fruit. Today, there are so many date shake shops dotting Highway 111, it has become known as the “unofficial drink of the Coachella Valley.”
Meanwhile, Iranian cuisine has a date-based shake of its own called majoon, which combines dates, bananas, and ice cream into a thick frappe that gets crowned with toasted nuts and seeds. In Iran, the treat is considered to be an energy drink, and is often served at breakfast.
The majority of Iranians arrived in the Los Angeles area in the 1960s, which is about a generation after date shakes had started to gain popularity in Southern California. I love to think about how these immigrant families were able to find a familiar treat in their new home.
Shafia’s Date Shake is DELICIOUS.
As a child, I never passed up the opportunity to drink a milk shake. I have fond memories of family meals at our local Greek diner where the Hershey’s chocolate milk shakes were thick, sweet, and abundant.
I still love a good shake on occasion, but I also appreciate Shafia’s take on majoon, which replaces the ice cream with yogurt, and adds a handful of ice cubes for the cold and frothy texture.
The shake itself tastes icy and decadent - a treat for breakfast or after a run. But the real magic comes from the kaleidoscope of toasted nuts and seeds artfully sprinkled on top. The dates and bananas’ sweetness is offset by the fragrant nuts, and the crunch of toasted coconut and pistachios is deeply satisfying.
This recipe a winner and, in this heat, a lifesaver!
Check out the Date Shake with Toasted Nuts recipe below. And if you enjoyed this peek into my cookbook collection, check out the other recipes and books I’ve featured in the Adventures in Cooking My Cookbook Collection column:
Creamy Spinach Soup from Oma & Bella: The Cookbook
Moroccan Carrot Salad with Meyer Lemon Yogurt from Bavel
Winter Squash with Caramelized Onions from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous
Onion-Sour Cream Tart (Zwiebelkuchen) from The Molly Goldberg Cookbook
Date Shake with Toasted Nuts
Serves 1 to 2
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