Dubai date trail

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 1:03pm IST | Agency: DNA

Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. They are believed to have originated around Iraq, and have been cultivated since ancient times, from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt.

The Ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine, and ate them at harvest. In later times, traders spread dates around South West Asia, Northern Africa, and Spain and Italy. Dates were introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards.

Dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese. Pitted dates are also referred to as stoned dates.

Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savory dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco, to cookies and other dessert items. Dates are also processed into cubes, paste called ajwa, spreads, date syrup or ‘honey’, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol.

Vinegar made from dates is awesome for vinaigrettes. The best ones according to me are from Iran and then the famous Medjool date from Morocco. The market is full of different types of dates.

Its nutritional value is tremendous. We all know that in Ramadan, the fast is broken with some dates and then water for energy and recovery.

The sap is tapped from the date palm for jaggery and palm syrup production. The seeds are dried and used with charcoal as a fuel.

My recent trip to the UAE took me to the date market in Sharjah. Here I sampled and gorged on dates.

When dates are ripe/fresh, they are yellow to a bright red in colour. Then they are dried, the sugar content gets concentrated resulting in this delish kind of fruit.

Dates are among the most ancient of fruits, growing along the Nile as early as the 5th century BC. Perhaps the Egyptians knew dates’ sweetness hit a bounty of nutrients. Dates are nuggets of nutrition that satisfy a sweet tooth, making them ideal snacks to stave off hunger. True, dates provide more calories than most fruits, but they make a great substitute for processed sweets, like candy, to help you stick to your weight-loss routine.

Dates are sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, and a good source of fibre — all of which are important factors in keeping the pounds off. Loaded with fibre — both soluble and insoluble — dates are able to fill you up and keep your bowel habits regular. They are an excellent source of potassium and provide numerous other important vitamins and minerals — quite a powerhouse packed in a tiny, portable package.

Recipe
Date and tamarind chutney

(A great dip and accompaniment)

Ingredients
Pitted dates: 1 cup
Tamarind pulp: 2 tbsp
Ginger minced: 1 tsp
Cumin: ½ tsp
Red chilli powder: 1/3 tsp
Water: 2/3 cup
Oil: 1 tsp
Salt
Black pepper powder

Method
Heat the oil, add the cumin seeds, once they crackle add the ginger and red chilli powder. Cook on a slow simmer for 45 seconds, add the tamarind pulp, pitted dates , salt, pepper and the water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Blend and chill. This is a great spread for warm toast and a sandwich filling.


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