Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
BY TARA NARAYAN
Middle-eastern treasure trove of dates… nutritious and delicious fruit of the earth. There are over a hundred varieties of dates in the world!
A FRIEND brought me a packet of dates courtesy a Dubai trip and I’m so smitten! These Bateel Khidiri dates are deliciously different from what we get in Goa or India or at least I haven’t tasted these to date and it was a first time for me (first times are always exciting). Suddenly I find myself thinking of the magical world of date palms and their fruit from the Middle East and what a fountain of delicious taste they offer. Arguably dates make for the best sweeteners of life… oh, to live for and live gloriously!
Not that we in India don’t know the goodness of eating a date or two or a few of them now and again when the occasion calls for it. These dates I’ve got are more than inch-long soft, darkish affairs with a very narrow stone at the heart. Each date yields a rich delicious creamy sweet textured puree, they’re the kind you want to stuff with a walnut half and savour on a good morning. And I’m thinking why don’t we take dates or khajoor more seriously in India as in offering them to those who are suffering from malnutrition and most of us are — the latest thinking is that if you’re fat or suffering from any one of the degenerative diseases you are primarily suffering from malnutrition. Every disease is because of some deficiency and each one of us has to find out what it is, it could be a multiple deficiency leading to degeneration, premature aging, lack of energy, etcetera (like we are all at different stages of dying).
Also consider that eating to live need not have to cost an arm and leg like many of us think (including me)…although I suppose this superior quality of dates I’ve been eating lately must be more expensive! Do you know anything about the Middle-Eastern blessing or bounty of dates and what lifesavers they can be? These days vis-à-vis life or death, to live or not to live, I’m thinking how so many of us are alive but want to die, while as many are virtually “dead” (because we have compromised so much with our original reasons to live) — work that out whichever way you want.
This week all I want to do here is focus on dates and get all of you to make room for a few in your life. I mean one may go on a diet of dates to knock off excess weight if one wishes to. Take a second, third and umpteenth look at these dark, lustrous, maroon to pale, dusky gold dates when they’re in semi-dry form but not hard, dry kharek as we call them in Gujarati. Dates are considered the sweetest of our dry fruit and yes, rich in carbohydrates (good, fibre-rich carbs) and a quick healthy source of energy. Some gym friends of mine feast on dates. Not just from the energy point of view, but because dates make for a cache of nutrients from vitamins to mineral values — make a note of this, one may eat dates for better skin and bone health.
Dates are a mine of glucose, sucrose, fructose, and also vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium (did you know that it is this mineral which helps keep cholesterol and incidence of stroke in check?), selenium, magnesium, zinc …and vitamins B1, B2, B5, A1 and believe it or not, vitamin C. So eating a few dates can make for better bones, hair, nails, skin, blood, the works of body beautiful. Hey, the healing power of dates has been known since time immemorial in the countries of the Middle East and in Egypt they used to and perhaps still make wine from dates. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book detailing dates palms and all we need to know about the fruit of date palms.
DO you know that fresh dates (medjool) come into the Panaji market seasonally and they’re a vivid yellow and red in colour, sweetly juicy, can chop into salads, grate into coleslaw….there are something like 30 varieties or varietals of dates available in the Middle Eastern/international market (and in Iraq they may have a hundred different varieties, remember this is all part of ancient Persia and dates feature in Persian/Middle Eastern cuisine most frequently). Dates are said to be Iraqi natives though today one may find them growing in California through the Middle Eastern countries to South East Asia. I’m not sure of what kind of a shelf life natural dates enjoy, but I’ve never heard of dates rotting even out of the fridge.
At one time when I was busy shunning one of our primary industrial ingredients called white, shimmering, tantalizing sugar and trying desperately to keep it out of my kitchen and life (in vain) I used to think when I feel like something sweet, I’ll linger with a date in hand (or a dry fig, or that most divinely sun-filled amber apricot from the mountain valleys of Kargil in Ladakh, or just a handful of raisins, golden or purple black)…but no industrial sugar, not even that `70 square of walnut brownie from a favoured cake shop in town. All talk of course.
But my consumption of industrial sugar in any form has come down dramatically almost to zero percent; when I fall prey to some synthetic sugar sweetened temptation my kidneys get into warning mode immediately later in the day and night! Anyway, this is to say, last week I found myself appreciating a packet of dates which a friend had brought for me all the way from a Dubai trip and I’m thinking anew how come we don’t get these absolutely moist, velvety dark maroon Bateel/Khidiri dates in Goa? If you know where I can find them let me know.
And do discover the fruit of date palms anew and how to incorporate them in your day to day eating, can’t remember where, but somewhere I’d once come face to face with gorgeous dates, stones removed and replaced with shudh desi ghee – they were to live for! Out in the Middle Eastern countries one may hear of Sukkary dates which Saudi Arabians love, and there are the Khadrawy dates, and Zaghloul dates from Egypt…and some more about dates for you to cross-check!
They are anti-cholesterol, have little fat in them and they also make for a protein rich snack. Don’t know too much about all that but from now onwards I’m going to take a respectful shine to the fruit of date palms and do some more homework on both fruit and palms! Anyone has an oasis of date palms in Goa???
Postscript: I think all hospitals and especially public hospitals should offer a banana and two dates to every patient convalescing in hospital; also a prescription to eat more dates if anyone is suffering from anemia. Public healthcare in Goa and India is not proactive at all when it comes to what patients get to eat while in hospital (pao, biscuits, watery tea… count as dishonest and what I call mod con industrial food).
DATE usages are endless
Blend dates into a smoothie, chop in salads, sweeten a raita wee bit by grating a date into it, make mithai with dates (just roll crushed nuts into date puree with some ghee), sweeten oatmeal, kheer, payasam with date syrup….turn dates into dairy-free caramels by blending tahini (sesame seeds crumble/paste), dates and coconut oil, pour into a pan and firm up in freezer, cut into bit size and wrap prettily to serve. If I’ve got premium dates from Egypt or Iraq, I would serve them neat as dessert… look Ma, no sugar!
Make date syrup. How to make date syrup? It is available in the market in pretty glass jars but here’s how to do it yourself at home: Date syrup is basically made by boiling washed, soaked dates and then squeezing out the thick liquid in clean linen cloth. Date syrup may be thick or thin as you wish and may be used as an alternative sweetener to honey or maple syrup. Lace pancakes with date syrup, sweeten a glass of milk with it and serve hot or chilled spiked with a pinch of cardamom powder. Date syrup atop buttered toast, anyone? Use Medjool, Deglet or Barhi dates for making date syrup.
This is to say hello and cheers to all the dates of the world.