I got up early as usually this morning and woke up to a sleeping silent city. It was calming allowing me to reflect on many things. I love the sound of nothing. No breakfast to make this morning (except for the little one), ours will have to wait until the sun goes down. Amazingly most of the Muslim nation has started their fast today. I honestly can’t remember the last time we fasted with everyone else. Serenity and unity are two great feelings to wake up to. Inshallah the weather will continue to be kind to us too.
Breakfast (or iftar) today will start with dates and buttermilk. Dates are one of those bite size power foods ideal for an energy boost. Rich in fiber, dates also carry a load of other nutrients, such as amino acids, calcium, sulfur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Take care not to assume that healthy equals light; 100 g of dates has 275 Kcals of energy, so a little will go a long way. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) made it a point to break his fast with dates before the Maghrib prayer, and this has become sunnah (habit or practice) ever since.
Date palms are indigenous to Libya and have formed part of the local diet for as long as history has been recorded. Some even say that the staple meal of dates and camel milk gives the tribes of the south their strong bright teeth (so if your after a Hollywood smile, skip the cosmetic dentist and head for a Saharan desert oasis!) Although palm oases are most commonly associated with the southern regions such as Jalu, Hoon, Ghat and Ghadames, the coastal areas were also a zone for thriving date palms of other species. Mass urbanization has lead to the decline of coastal oases, such as those surrounding Tripoli during the Italian occupation, when building began outside the confines of the Old Medina walls. Areas such as Janzour and Tajura were previously known as date palm oases.
Date production has formed a large part of the agricultural industry in North Africa and the Middle East. Libya, one of the top ten global date producers, produced 175 thousand tons in 2007 (UN Food & Agriculture Organization FAO). The First International Date Conference was held in Tripoli in 1959, and led to the development of a special program under FAO to promote the commercial utilization of substandard or physically defective dates. The most common varieties produced in Libya are Abel, Ayuob, Bronsy, Halima, Khadrawy, Mgmaget, Saidy, Tagyat, Tamej, and Umeljawary. The most popular exported variety is Deglet Nour.
Dates are still not in season, so finding good quality fresh fruit for Ramadan this year may be difficult. They will not come into high season until October or the aptly named Libyan month of Tumoor or Dates. Try dressing up dates for your Ramadan guests using the most popular nut in Libya, the almond. This is a match made in heaven!
Almond Stuffed Dates
24 dates (of a dry variety such as deglet)
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1/6 cup sugar
1/2 tsp orange blossom water
A pinch of cinnamon
Blend all these ingredients in a mini food processor, spice mill or coffee grinder until a paste forms. If the ingredients do not seem to bind well, add a teaspoon of water to help them stick.
Remove the caps of the dates and make a slit length-wise removing the pits. Stuff each date with a teaspoon of the almond paste. The paste will help the dates retain their original shape.