Showing posts with label date. Show all posts
Showing posts with label date. Show all posts

Jun 12, 2016

Ingredient of Week: Dates, Khajur, Khajoor


The familiar fruit known as dates are called "khajoor" or khajur" in Hindi and Urdu. Dates have been a staple food cultivated in the Indus Valley as well as the Middle East for thousands of years. Dates have deep significance in many cultures as they are mentioned over fifty times in the Christian Bible and twenty times in the Holy Koran. Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years.


The date palm is also known as Phoenix dactylifera and is a flowering plant species in the palm family, Arecaceae. Reaching a height of seventy to seventy five feet date palms grow singly or form a clump with several stems from a single root system. The date palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants and is naturally wind pollinated. In traditional oasis horticulture and in modern commercial orchards date palm are all pollinated manually. Manual pollination is done by skilled laborers on ladders or by use of a wind machine.


The English word "date" derives from the ancient Greek word "dáktulos" meaning "finger." Dates ripen in four stages, which are known by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), and tamr (ripe, sun-dried). 


Agricultural experts estimate that there are more than 3,000 varieties of dates worldwide. In the southwestern United States only two varieties are predominantly grown: "Deglet Noor" a small, drier date primarily used in baking and the Moroccan "Medjool" which is prized for eating out of hand because of it's large size, succulence, and rich caramel flavor.


The date you'll most commonly see served at festivals and holidays in South Asia is called the "chuara" or "chohara." This type of date is grown primarily in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

Chuara or chohara dried dates
Chuara dates are picked when not quite fully ripe then boiled with a yellow dye. After being boiled, the dates are spread over straw mats and left to dry under the sun for at least for six days. The result is a rock hard and rather flavorless but sweet date. They are very inexpensive and seem to keep indefinitely.


We also have many premium quality dates available here in South Asia that I'd never seen in the United States. These "Dabbas" dates are from the Emirates, they are small but very soft, flavorful, and sweet. That box is a full kilogram (or about 2 lbs) of premium dates for $7USD - can you believe that price?


These are "Barari" dates from Tunisia. They're still on the stem in the box and a bit drier, larger, and less sweet than the Emirati dates.  My personal favorite is a hand packed variety called "Miriam" from Iran that tastes just like caramel.


 "Wet pack" dates of unspecified varieties are always available at a modest price too. The bag on the left is 500 grams or about a pound for $2USD. These wet pack dates are great for cooking and baking. Date syrup as you can see on the right usually shows up in the markets around Ramadan here too. I like date syrup over vanilla ice cream.


In South Asia dates are often made into laddoos, halwas, and kheer for holidays and festivals like Diwali, Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr, as well as weddings. One of the chutneys frequently served with chat and samosas is made from dates, tamarind, and dry ginger/soonth.

The brown chutney is made with dates and red is tomato.
Most often dates are eaten alone as a simple snack or sweet in South Asia. In fact, a certain someone in our household likes to eat dates on the front porch and toss the pits in between the flower pots which has resulted in this:


Our own baby date palm!

Jun 10, 2016

Date and Crispy Rice Laddoos

dates puffed rice cereal sweet dessert ramadan easy laddoo balls recipe

"Laddoos" or "laddus" are ball shaped sweets popular in South Asia. Easy, eggless, and no bake these laddoos are a quick and delicious treat to make! Dates are simmered into a rich caramel then combined with crunchy puffed rice for a delicately crisp and divinely sweet indulgence. Perfect for Ramadan or any other holiday featuring lots of decadent goodies.


Here I've taken an old fashioned American recipe and "Desi-fied" it a little with cardamom and ghee. Variously called "humdingers" or simply "date balls" these tasty treats graced many a Thanksgiving and Christmas platter in my home when I was growing up in the US. For some reason we Americans love breakfast cereal in our sweets. Dates and rice are familiar favorites to the Desi palate so these are sure to please all around. 


Truly a crowd pleaser, this recipe was originally from my 1970's 4H cookbook. However, I've been making this for so long I know it by heart. From what I understand this recipe has been around with minor variations since the 1920's in the US. In the US you can buy 8oz bags of pitted dates that measure to about a cup which is what this recipe was written for. Pitted dates are not available in South Asia so I'd recommend using "wet pack" dates as shown in the above photo. They are fairly inexpensive and are very good quality for use in baking and cooking. I do have to pit them myself which is a bit of a sticky chore. The bag you see in the photo is the standard 500g package available here which yields about 2 cups of chopped and pitted dates. When using the 500g bag as shown in the photo I simply double the ingredients in the recipe below. If you wish to make these vegan just substitute coconut oil or a good quality vegetable margarine for the butter or ghee. These are so yummy and in less than an hour you can easily whip up about 48 to 50 laddoos for any special occasion or just an after school treat!

Ingredients:
1/2 C butter, ghee, or coconut oil
3/4 C sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
7 - 10 green cardamoms/elaichi, seeds removed & coarsely ground (optional)
1 C dates, chopped & pitted
3 C rice crispy cereal
1 C desiccated coconut or 1/2 C powdered sugar

Here's what to do:
1) In a large heat safe mixing bowl measure out rice crispy cereal.


2) In a heavy bottomed saucepan combine sugar, dates, salt, vanilla, cardamom, and butter or ghee.


3) Over medium heat bring to simmer while stirring constantly. Allow to simmer for 3 minutes,  keep stirring constantly so the mixture does not scorch.


4) Remove cooked date mixture from heat, immediately pour over pre measured rice crispy cereal in heat proof bowl. Mix well with wooden or silicone spoon. Allow mixture to cool for about 10 minutes.

5) When mixture has cooled roll by tablespoonful into walnut sized balls. I use a tablespoon sized cookie scoop to get uniform amounts.


5) Roll the balls in desiccated coconut or powdered sugar as desired. A round cake tin or shallow bowl works well for this. Keeps well in a sealed airtight for up to two weeks. (But they only last about two days around our house because everyone eats them.)

Helpful hints:
If you wish to make these vegan just substitute coconut oil or a good quality vegetable margarine for the butter or ghee.

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