Cuma//joo mah: Dates are Nature's Candy
Before moving to Turkey, I had only tried a date once - stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in bacon. It was unctuous, jammy, caramel-like, and so intriguing. While I loved the texture and taste immediately, it was an ingredient that was seemed hard to find and mysterious to use. Now that I live in Turkey, dates are a part of my typical diet. Nowadays, we have a jar filled with dates ready to access and add to dishes with ease - it is my version of the cookie jar.
Sometimes I fill them with a little tahini and sprinkle them with flaky sea salt while other times I eat a few dates with walnuts as a little late-night dessert with a cup of tea. Of course, many use dates in savory recipes like rice dishes, meat dishes (Moroccan Lamb Tagine), salads, or as a natural sweetener in bread, cookies (Khajoor Ki Mithai), or puddings; the options are unending. In fact, I highly suggest following @dadaeats on Instagram (see below) for a lot of inspiring food content, often featuring the magical date.
Around this time of year in Turkey, dates become particularly widespread. During the month of Ramadan, some Muslims break their fast with a date, known as 'hurma' in Turkish, as it is believed Mohammed did thousands of years ago. Globally, the date acts as a unifying and enchanting fruit in the Muslim world, "the date palm, mentioned more than any other fruit-bearing plant in the Qur’an—22 times—is a symbol often associated with Muslims, even as the religion has spread around the globe" (1).
Dates hold religious significance in Islam and historically have been used for health and medicinal benefits, especially in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North African countries. Dates are often recommended to pregnant women to stimulate the uterus during childbirth and reduce bleeding. Additionally, babies are nourished with mashed dates for calories, vitamins, and minerals, such as vitamin A and numerous B-complex vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, copper, calcium, and potassium abundant in the fruit (1).
Dates thrive in dry, semi-arid climates with hot and sunny days, and there is "evidence of cultivation dating back as far as 7000 BC. As trade developed...with the rest of the world, dates were introduced to Southwest Asia, Northern Africa, and Spain. During the Spanish conquests in the Americas, dates were brought to Mexico, California, and later South America" (2). Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the countries leading the production of dates globally. See the picture below to see how dates grow and form pods on a date palm tree.
Personally, I cannot recommend the date enough for adding to desserts, savory dinners, or a little snack. If you cannot find high-quality dates at your local market, take it to the web and order some today, then try out this recipe for Salty Date and Cheddar Biscuits, which sounds like a perfect use of dates; in my opinion! The recipe comes from Chef Molly Baz and her new cookbook called Cook this Book, which I am excited to get my hands on! Dates really are nature's version of candy with almost a mystical reputation which explains why they are so ingrained in various religious texts and health communities globally.
Things I am Loving:
To learn more about the date production in the USA, I highly recommend reading this article from The National Geographic, Dates: The Sticky History of a Sweet Fruit
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is such a helpful and informative 1-hour long podcast answering cooking questions and interviewing some of the most influential people in the food world!
Whether you are vegan or not, I love to follow Avant-Garde Vegan on YouTube because of the amazing things he does with vegetables and plant-based products. I always end these videos with a salivating mouth and inspiration to try new things in the kitchen. To see one of his videos featuring plantains, click below.
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