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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2004

Dates are part of Ramadan tradition

Around the world, Muslims have favorite Ramadan recipes,

yet dates are universal. From the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent to Malaysia, dates are used to break the fast that is part

of the observance, and then in variety of recipes as part of the

traditions of Ramadan and Eid.

As the Muslim observance Ramadan begins at sundown

Friday, fasting will be observed from sunrise to sundown for a

month. The daily fast is broken with a drink of water and dates.

Special foods are also served for the pre-dawn and after-sunset

meals and during the holiday at the end of the fast called Eid ul-

Fitr.

Toledoan Fatima Al-Hayani, who is of Lebanese heritage, is

an expert on dates. She can tell if a date is from Tunisia or Iraq,

California or Saudi Arabia. She estimates there are 270 varieties.

They have different colors, sizes, and shapes. Each one is

different.

Some are more juicy, some more golden, some are darker,

some are drier, some are smaller, some are larger. It s similar

to our apples, says Mrs. Al-Hayani, who is married to Shakir

Al-Hayani, who is of Iraqi heritage.

Golden Delicious and McIntosh are quite different. All are different consistencies.

Some dates are chewy, like taffy. You pick and choose what

you like. I have favorites from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, she says.

She prefers dates that are not totally ripened on the tree. It s

the middle stage I like it s almost half dry and half fresh. It has a special flavor.

Mrs. Al-Hayani makes one type of Lebanese cookie with

flour; a second type is made with semolina, which has the

consistency of cream of wheat.

I fill the cookies with dates and nuts and roll or mold them, she

says. A special wooden mold gives the cookies a pretty

appearance.

I also cut up dates and mix them with nuts such as almonds

and walnuts. People can nibble on that, she says.

The most common date in this country is the Medjool date.

It s too soft, says Mrs. Al-Hayani. I like it a little chewy.

It s big and it looks pretty, but I go for the taste. I had dates from

Tunisia. [They were] excellent. I found it in Paris one time.

Rehana Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan, says that dates

are eaten there as a fruit. One dessert called Sheer-khurma is

eaten on Eid morning, says the Perrysburg resident. It is vermicelli

cooked with nuts, saffron, rose water, milk, sugar, and

dried dates. It s sweet, and the texture is soupy enough to be a

light custard. There are almonds, pistachios, raisins,

and coconut.

Technically this is a dessert, but also a breakfast food. I had

this dish when I was growing up.

It s always been associated with Eid morning. We eat it also

throughout the day. It s a tradition on Eid day to visit family and

friends, she says. Ramadan ends Nov. 13; Eid is celebrated

Nov. 14.

In Malaysia, where Azah Pulcheon of Findlay was born,

dates are eaten to break the fast and are used in fritters. One

recipe is like tempura, using a rice-flour batter and deep frying

each fritter at 375 degrees in hot palm oil, says Mrs. Pulcheon.

The date softens when it is fried. We eat it warm. The fritter

is crispy.

Another custom is a sweet cookie similar to a Mexican

wedding cookie. Instead of nuts, mashed dates are used. We

bake them and then roll them confectioners sugar, she says

of the confection known as makmur, which means peace

in the Malay language. Kueh means cookie, so Kueh Makmur

is eaten for Eid ul-Fitr.



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