There are several varieties of dates, but the king of them all is the big, soft and sweet Medjool.
And, lucky for us, they are grown in South Africa – at the Karsten farm in Klein Pella, Northern Cape, the biggest date farm in the southern hemisphere.
Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits, and have been grown for thousands of years in the Middle East and North Africa. So they have been a staple of cooking there, being added to savoury dishes like tagines and to puddings and breads.
Dates are also turned into pastes, syrups, powders, vinegars, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) or snacked on as they are.
When Muslims break fast in the evening meal of Ramadaan, they tend to eat a date first.
Dates also have excellent health benefits and, weight for weight, contain more potassium than bananas.
CHICKEN AND DATE STEW
8 chicken pieces, thighs and legs
salt and pepper
15ml olive oil
1 onion, diced
30ml peeled and minced fresh ginger
5ml ground coriander
5ml ground cumin
500ml chicken stock
250ml chopped pitted dates
125ml chopped fresh parsley
Season chicken with salt and pepper.
In a heavy-based pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned and crisp, about 5-6 minutes, turning halfway.
Transfer chicken to a plate.
Add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring, until softened.
Add the ginger and spices and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Arrange chicken over onion mixture, add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover with the lid, reduce heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Transfer chicken to a serving dish.
Increase heat under pot to high. Add the dates and boil for 10 minutes until thickened. Stir in the parsley.
Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with couscous.
BULGHUR WHEAT AND DATE SALAD
180ml bulghur wheat
5ml ground allspice
500ml boiling water
6 dates, pitted and chopped
125ml chopped parsley
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
45ml flaked almonds, toasted plus extra for garnish
a handful of baby spinach
2 naartjies, peeled and segmented
1 naartjie peeled and sliced for serving
100ml olive oil
60ml lemon juice
10ml red wine vinegar
Put the bulghur, spices and salt in a large bowl. Cover with the boiling water. Cover with cling film and leave to sit for 10-15 minutes.
Fluff with a fork, then add the chopped dates, parsley, chickpeas and almonds.
Pour the dressing over the salad.
Just before serving, mix through the spinach and naartjies.
Scatter with extra almonds and Clementine slices.
DRESSING: Whisk all ingredients together until well combined.
DATE CUPCAKES WITH SALTED CARAMEL ICING
80ml golden syrup
125ml boiling water
3ml bicarbonate of soda
625ml self-raising flour
10ml ground ginger
250ml chopped pecan nuts
1 egg, lightly beaten
SALTED CARAMEL ICING
375ml icing sugar
125ml caramelised condensed milk
a pinch of salt flakes
Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a muffin tray with paper cups.
Place dates, syrup and boiling water in a heatproof bowl. Stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
Combine flour, ginger and pecans in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Add date mixture, milk, oil and egg. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
Spoon mixture into prepared muffin tray.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.
Cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
When cool, top with the icing and serve.
ICING: Cream butter and icing sugar well. Mix in caramel and salt.
250g dates, chopped
250ml boiling water
5ml bicarbonate of soda
250ml castor sugar
5ml baking powder
a pinch of salt
50g pecan nuts, chopped
80ml brown sugar
45ml pecan nuts, chopped
Put dates in a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir in bicarb and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt, then add to creamed mixture. Add the cooled date mixture. Stir in the nuts.
Pour into a greased and lined 11 x 22cm loaf pan and bake at 180°C for 35-40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Remove and pour over topping. Sprinkle with chopped nuts.
TOPPING: Combine all the ingredients except nuts in a small saucepan and heat for 5 minutes.
DATE CINNAMON ROLLS
60ml castor sugar
10g packet of instant yeast
80g butter, melted
180ml buttermilk, warmed
250-300ml warm water
250ml pitted, chopped dates
125ml brown sugar
5ml ground cinnamon
500ml icing sugar, sifted
15-30ml cold water, to make a paste
DOUGH: Combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a mixer connected with the dough hook.
Combine the butter and warmed buttermilk. With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture to the flour. Add enough warm water to make a soft, but not sticky, dough.
Knead for 5 minutes. Cover with oiled plastic to rise for 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
Turn risen dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a rectangle about 30x40cm.
Spread on the date filling and roll up from the long side.
Cut the roll into 3cm-thick slices and place, cut-side up, in an oven tray that has been lined with non-stick baking paper and sprayed with cooking spray. Cover the buns and set aside to rise for about 20-30 minutes.
Bake at 180°C for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into a bun comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and drizzle with the icing while still warm.
FILLING: Place dates, sugar, cinnamon, butter and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Place in a food processor and blend until smooth. Cool slightly.
ICING: Sift icing sugar into a bowl and add enough water to make a thick paste.
Angela Day, The Star