Breaking the Ramadan fast with a bite of date
Breaking fast during Ramadan is often done with a piece of date. Adding them to cookies is a tasty way to do that.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — It's a simple tradition centuries old and honored by millions: a bite of date taken at sundown.
This Muslim ritual is said to have begun with the Prophet Mohammed around the seventh century. Today, it often is used to end the daily fast during Ramadan, Islam's holy month during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan continues through the end of September this year.
The tradition of breaking the daily fast with dates has transformed Ramadan into a massive industry in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia alone, more than 21-million palm trees produce 884,000 tons of dates a year, making the kingdom one of the world's largest date producers.
Those dates are eaten fresh, dried and in any number of treats. Gourmet date shops sell date-filled chocolates, date mustard, date syrup and date bars.
Visit any home or office in the kingdom and you invariably will see a small plate heaped with dates on a coffee table.
Date baskets, containing different varieties of the fruit, date cookies and date juice, are common gifts. Dates also feature in many desserts, where the fruit is the most prominent ingredient.
In Lebanon, the dates are turned into a paste that fills cookies served at the feast of Eid al-Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan) and the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important Muslim holiday, which falls less than three months after Ramadan.
Lentil soup is another popular food to break the end of the daylight fast. Traditional recipes call for dried limes, but lime juice is used in Sarah al-Hamad's Red Lentil Soup from her soon-to-be published cookbook Cardamom and Lime.
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Date Paste Cookies
1 pound dates, pitted
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 (1 stick) cup butter
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
In a food processor, combine the dates and 1 tablespoon of butter. Pulse until the fruit is well mashed and resembles a paste. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. As it melts, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns light brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the cardamom and reserved date paste. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is fully combined. Mix in the nuts.
Remove the pan from the heat and let stand until cool enough to handle. Using your hands, pinch off pieces about a tablespoon apiece and roll the mixture into balls. Place the balls in paper muffin cups.
In an airtight container, the cookies will keep several weeks.
Makes 36 cookies.
Source: Sana Ahmed Khashoggi of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Red Lentil Soup
2 1/4 cups water
7 ounces dry red lentils
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic puree (about 2 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 vermicelli nests (1 3/4 ounces shredded vermicelli)
In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
Place the lentils in a mesh strainer and rinse under cool water until the water runs clear. Add the lentils to the boiling water, return to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until soft, about 15 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Return the saucepan to the burner. Add the oil and heat over medium-high, then add the onions and lime juice. Saute until the onions are golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, ginger, curry powder, turmeric and cumin. Add the lentil puree, then stir well. Season with salt.
Add the tomato puree and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble.
Add the vermicelli and cook for 3 minutes. If desired, the soup can be thinned with water.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: From Sarah al-Hamad's forthcoming Cardamom and Lime (Interlink Books, 2008)