Date Treats from Middle Eastern Cuisine.
The entire Middle East region abounds in Date cultivation, the fruit being regarded holy and healthy.
In UAE (and other Middle East countries) the green Date palm trees abound in the harsh, arid landscape. Often people are seen taking rest under the shade of these trees, relaxing away from the mid day sun. During the fruit season in summer, there is plenty of fallen fruit to enjoy. No wonder Middle Eastern cuisine makes use of Dates to prepare a variety of dishes: Date halve, Arabic date and cardamom cake, Moroccan chicken and Date Tagine, Egyptian milky date pudding, Lebanese Date cookies (Mamoul), Date desserts with pistachios and almonds …and the list is endless.
It’s the Ramadan – the holy month. The Muslim community celebrates a month-long fasting period from dawn to dusk. Dates form an integral and important part of the fast – it’s the Holy fruit. After the evening prayers, at the Iftar meal the fast is traditionally broken by eating the Date fruit. It gives the body immediate sugar and protein, as well as prepare the empty stomach for richer food intake. Dates reduce cholesterol, abdominal pain, inflammation and have many other medicinal qualities. No wonder it’s a well-loved fruit. Dates are eaten raw or ripe. Raw fresh dates (Rutab) are golden coloured and have a crunchy, fibrous nature. Local Emirati, Omani and Lebanese eagerly await the summer fruit every year. The ripened fruit is dark brown, sweet and succulent.
Here is an easy milkshake recipe. Often children are given this as they return from school – makes a healthy, nutritious and cool drink.
Almond /Date Milk shake: This is a simple, healthy, traditional summer treat given to children as they return from school. Dates provide healthy sugar.
Ingredients: 6-7 almonds 6-7 large dates, seed removed 3 glasses milk crushed ice( optional)
Method: Soak the dates and almonds in warm water for 10 minutes. Remove skin from almonds and loosen skin from dates. In blender, make paste of almonds and dates, adding milk as desired. Note the colour change from dark brown to light brown. Put some crushed ice into 3 glasses. Pour frothy blended milk /date mixture over them. Decorate with sliced almond. Serve immediately.
Guest contribution: Nisrin is my childhood friend, currently living in Dubai. She is celebrating Ramadan and has been fasting (and feasting too). Thanks Nisrin, for sharing your recipes and tips here.
1.Best dates to use for smoothies are Medjool, pitted and sliced
2. Soak dates in milk/water for few hours before use
3. Substitute yoghurt and milk interchangeably if desired.
4. Skim milk/ Low fat blends better
5. Add oat bran, almonds, flax seeds(linseed) for a healthier and energizing drink
6. Freezing the fruit before blending will give a creamier texture
1. Simple Banana Oat Bran Smoothie (Makes 2 glasses)
• 1 ½ cup milk, • 1 tb spoon oat bran, • 1 Banana, • 4 dates soaked in the milk overnight ( Mejdool are best!) • Vanilla to taste – optional. Blend it all together in processor, pour into each glass.
2. Banana – Date Smoothie ( makes 2-3 glasses) • 250 ml plain yoghurt • 120 ml milk, • 120 ml dates, fresh, pitted and chopped and soaked overnight in the milk • 2 bananas, sliced • 8 ice cubes – optional Blend all ingredients ( except ice). Put ice cubes in each glass, pour smoothie on top, and let froth top.
3. Spiced Banana Date Smoothie (this is her favourite)!
• 1 cup Milk • 4 Medjool or other dates, pitted, chopped and soaked overnight in the milk • 1 teaspoon cinnamon • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg • 1/8 teaspoon ginger • 1/8 teaspoon cloves • 1/8 teaspoon Chilli Powder* ( optional) • 1/16 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper* • 3/4 cup sliced ripe banana • 3/4 cup Ice – Optional
Blend all ingredients, except ice. Serve ice cubes in glasses, pour frothy smoothie into glasses, decorate with nutmeg /cinnamon powder.
Due to the festive Ramadan season Lebanese sweet shops and market shelves in UAE, are filled with assorted sweets and decorated dates – coated with chocolate, stuffed with pistachio or almond powder, layered with fresh cream, date balls rolled in coconut. Ah..my sweet tooth is craving. Here is my contribution.
Stuffed Dates with fresh cream( I used yoghurt sauce for healthier option)
A healthy, traditional dessert served at Iftar party during Ramadan.
Take 4-8 Mejdool /Deglet Noor / any large fleshy dates, keep at room temperature. De-seed them gently. Stuff them with blanched almonds (or coarse pistachio powder). Arrange on plate. Dress them with whisked fresh cream. (here is the health tip : I used thick yoghurt, lightly whisked + 1 spoon sugar). Pour gently over the prepared Dates. Garnish with lemon and orange zest. Adding chopped pistachio or toasted pine nuts, gives more colour and texture. Serve at room temperature.
Isn’t that enough for this time? I’ve been busy reading about many Date cookie recipes. As soon as I’ve made a batch, I will share it with you all.
If you would like to share any Date recipes – do email them to me. It makes the world a richer place.
Till then – Happy Ramadan / Happy Ramzan / Id Mubarak / Ramadan Kareem