28 December 2006

New Year Nibbles

Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone, and whew, boy if I haven't cooked my little butt off. Between the roasts and the pies and packaging cookies and homemade jams and crackers, it has been quite the season. I am almost ready to settle into a cold January of soups and stews and comfortable armchairs. Almost. But first, there is New Years, or better yet New Years Eve.

A New Years Eve fete is my favorite kind of party- the kind where you can make all sorts of beautiful little bites and nibbles, get away with not serving a main course, and then have some gorgeous desserts. And did we mention champagne? I adore little canapes, each one a mouthful of flavors, and tiny enough to be picked up with the fingers or speared with the weapon of choice- a toothpick. Best for the cook, there is no main dish to worry over and since you can do most of the work ahead of time, you can spend the party out of the kitchen and actually relaxing (yes!) and enjoying your guests' company.

I fully realize that deep frying something is not in line with my "easy small bites" idea, but if I'm just doing canapes I like to have one showstopper piece, and that's what these fritters are. I fell in love with salt cod fritters while in Barcelona- the soft salty insides much like the French brandade de morue, which when fried, become irristible. I would not recommend standing near a big platter of these at a party, as they are so addictive you will find your self popping one after another. I've updated the fritters by adding a touch of herbes the Provence, the mixture from Southern France that includes parsley, rosemary, basil, lavender and savory. I usually prepare the batter ahead of time, then I fry them as the party's going- people literally start lining up at the door to get the next batch. The other option is to do them a few hours ahead of time and reheat them in a hot oven.

I also made a pear and blue cheese tart that was a revelation- no wonder pears and blue cheese are considered a classic pairing! I reached into the back of my freezer and pulled out the last of my homemade puff pastry (which didn't puff as much as it should because I was trying to stretch the last bits by rolling them out as much as possible), but store bought is just as good. Either way, you should make it, because it is so festive cut into little squares and such a nice compliment to that glass of bubbly in your hand. And let me take the chance to wish everyone an early happy new years!

Salt Cod Fritters with Herbes de Provence
Look for salt cod at international markets or well-stocked fish shops. You can also make a variation of these using fresh cod: simply cook the fresh cod in water until it is well done, then proceed in the recipe as directed.

1/2 lb salt cod, boned and chopped
1 tbl olive oil
1/2 cup milk
2 starchy potatoes, like Idaho, peeled
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbl herbes de Provence
salt and pepper
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (optional)
oil for frying

1. Soak the salt cod for 24 hours in plenty of cold water, changing the water every 8 hours. Drain the cod and bring to a boil in water to cover. Reduce the heat and simmer until the fish is tender, about 20 minutes. While the cod is cooking, dice the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes.
2. Drain the cod and put in a bowl with the oil. Use your fingers to flake the cod, then crush it with a fork, discarding any skin and bones.
3. When the potatoes are done, drain them and put the potatoes through a ricer directly into the bowl with to cod. Mix the cod with the potatoes, add the crushed garlic, herbes de Provence, and season with salt and pepper. Add the eggs, stirring to combine, and add just enough milk so that you have a stiff paste (you may not need all of it). Stir thoroughly and let cool completely before continuing.
4. Prepare a deep pot with several inches of oil and heat the oil to 370 F. Scoop the cod mixture by spoonfuls, if you want a bit of extra crunch you can sprinkle them with a bit of cornmeal. Fry the balls until they float and are browned, turning them so they cook on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Best when served immediately, but can be done a few hours a head of time and reheated in the oven.

Aioli (Garlicky Mayonnaise)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg yolk from the freshest egg possible
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp mustard
1/2 cup olive oil

In a medium bowl combine the garlic, egg yolk, lemon and mustard. Begin beating the mixture with an electric mixer, then slowly stream in the olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified.

Pear and Blue Cheese Tart
1 piece of puff pastry or your own pastry of choice
splash of olive oil
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon allspice
1 large ripe pear, sliced
1 cup blue cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out your puff pastry to form one large (16x8) rectangle, or divide into two smaller rectangles. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a chill in the refrigerator.
2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a saute pan and add sliced onions, cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onions soften completely and turn a bit golden, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, get your chilled pastry and score the center of the rectangle(s) in a cross-hatch pattern to prevent the center from puffing. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
3. Remove pastry from the oven. Stir allspice into onions, then spread over the pastry, pressing down slightly. Arrange pear slices over onions, then scatter blue cheese on top. Bake another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the tart shell is firm. Serve immediately.

21 December 2006

Bake Me a Biscuit

If there is any kitchen skill I am most proud of, it is my ability to make biscuits and pie crusts. My knife-skills are ok, my knowledge of sauces so-so, but when it comes to biscuits, I’ll allow myself to rest on my laurels a bit. Now these skills are also prerequisites of any good cook with Southern roots, preferably learned at the side of their grandmother in a kitchen with formica countertops and a sea-foam green mixer. I never had the opportunity to cook with my own grandmother, but when I am making biscuits or collard greens I feel her spirit is there with me, quietly watching as I cut with her old mishapen biscuit cutters.

At dinner once I had made some cheddar-biscuits and a family member said to his wife, “why don’t we ever have biscuits like these?” I took that as quite a compliment, though I hope the wife in question wasn’t offended. There are many ways to spice up your basic biscuit, just as there are a myriad of biscuit recipes (think cream biscuits, baking powder biscuits, drop biscuits, beaten biscuits). These cheddar biscuits are simple drop-biscuits, you don’t even have to roll the dough out. They are made special with a browned sage leaf on top, it’s aroma perfuming the biscuit. They are perfect any time- for breakfast, at lunch on the side of some tomato soup, or as part of a special dinner.

Making biscuits and pie crusts rely on very simple technique, though many cooks admit they are trepidatious of this. There are a couple key pointers to offer: don’t over mix or over handle the dough, the little lumps of butter in there have moisture in them, and the steam is what causes your biscuits to puff up in the oven. Using cold butter/shortening will keep those little bits intact. You also don’t want to develop too much gluten by over-handling the doungh, this will make your biscuits tough, simply pat out the dough and don’t try to re-roll it too much.

Cheddar-Sage Biscuits

2 cups flour
pinch salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbl cold shortening
3/4 - 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
sage leaves
1 tbl butter

- Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter so that the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the grated cheese. Stir in 3/4 cup of the buttermilk in a few swift strokes just to combine. You may need more buttermilk to get the right consistency. Drop biscuits on a greased baking sheet by large spoonfuls. Bake for 12 minutes. While they are baking, melt the butter in a suace pan, add the sage leaves and fry until just crisp. Top each biscuit with a drizzle of sage butter and a sage leaf.

-If you have White Lilly flour you can substitute that and omit the leaveners.
-To make cut-out biscuits, decrease buttermilk to 2/3 of a cup, knead the dough once or twice, then pat out the dough and cut with a biscuit cutter.

19 December 2006

Roast Squash, Pomegranate, and Pecan Salad

This is a lovely salad for your winter table. Perhaps a first course for Christmas dinner, where it's bright orange and red colors will sparkle, or as a light lunch with some soup or bread on the side. I love roast squash, especially in wedges where it reminds me of french fries, but so much better for you. The original recipe called for roast chestnuts, and by all means use them if you have some. I had nice Texas pecans on hand, and their crunch complimented the bursting pomegranate seeds. I found myself trying to gather all the elements onto my fork for that perfect bite: soft squash, nutty pecan, sour juicy pomegranate. I'll be making this one again.

Roast Squash, Pomegranate, and Pecan Salad
adapted from Gourmet Nov. 2004

1 head curly lettuce, frisee, or chicory
1 small acorn squash
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
for dressing:
1 tbl olive oil
2 tbl pomegranate molasses
1 tsp mustard

-Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cut the ends of the squash, then cut in half and scrape out the seeds. Slice the squash into thick wedges and brush the wedges with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the slices on their sides on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender, 15-20 minutes, flipping the slices over halfway through.
-Tear the lettuce into pieces. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Toss the lettuce with half the dressing to coat. Combine the lettuce, squash slices, pecans, and pomegranate. Drizzle the remaining dressing over top and serve.

14 December 2006

Get Crackin'

Are you baking yet? Is your house a frenzy of powdered sugar, royal icing, and baking sheets cooling on every available surface (which, if you are me, might include your bed)?

Or perhaps you’ve made a few cookies, the holiday tunes are playing and you’re thinking about gifts, but you have plenty of time right? And then all of a sudden you realize that Christmas is around the corner and you had better stop antagonizing about what to buy your cousin who never likes anything and just buy something so you can get it in the mail so that it is delivered in time for her to open it Christmas morning and sort of sigh about it and tell you she could find the same thing (so much cheaper) at Wal-Mart.

Maybe it takes a good holiday concert to get you into gear (the kind with Lou Reed singing White Christmas). Your holiday preparations need a little kick-in-the-pants. And there’s no kick-in-the-pants like a bit of bourbon, hmm?

A little while back, I promised some family classics, and these bourbon balls are it. This is one of those recipes where people ask you, year after year, “you’re bringing those bourbon balls, right?” Yes, mom, I’ll make the bourbon balls, which everyone sneaks from the tin throughout the long lazy holiday afternoons on the farm. After all, it wouldn’t be a Tennessee Christmas without a little bit of Jack Daniels. Help yourself to a little snifter while you’re at it, I’m sure Lou Reed would do the same.

Bourbon Balls
This recipe is very flexible, you can use whatever sort of cake or cookie crumbs you have on hand, or substitute walnuts for the pecans, or rum for bourbon, as you like.

1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (or vanilla wafers or cake crumbs)
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for rolling
2 tbl cocoa
2-3 tbl bourbon
3 tbl corn syrup

Combine the crumbs, pecans, sugar, and cocoa in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine the corn syrup and bourbon, then add that mixture to the crumbs. Stir the mixture with your hands or a spoon to coat all the crumbs, so that the mixture sticks together. Refrigerate the mixture for half an hour. Shape the mixture into balls, then roll the balls in confectioners sugar. Store in a tin in a cool place or in the refrigerator.

12 December 2006

In Praise of Purée

So many of my food likes and dislikes have to do with texture, even more than tastes or flavors. Many of my culinary quests have involved finding the perfect creaminess, just the right crunch, the crispy shattering crusts and gooey interiors that make food a textural experience. One of my ideal meals is a simple bowl of ultra-creamy soup and whether it is lasagna or brownies, I always want that crusty corner piece. Anyone who has spent any time with me may have observed a slightly obsessive way of stirring my ice cream, incorporating the melting parts to ensure a creamy bite, something which makes ice cream eating a very concentrated and focused event. As a child, my mother berrated me at the dinner table for “attacking” my baked potato with a fork, creaming it to perfect smoothness.

Naturally, I love vegetable purées, and there are so many options beyond the classic mashed potatoes. The word purée can sell me on a menu, whether it's a comforting potato mash like colcannon or the more avant-garde sounding "roast brussel sprouts with kimchi puree" I had recently. I like purées with a little more classic comfort, and I often turn to the “Silver Palate” cookbook, which has a whole section on purées, with ideas like cauliflower-arugula, carrot, and pea-mint.

This glorious beet-orange purée came from the memory of an old Lee Bailey soup recipe, and indeed it could be a soup if you thinned it out with some broth. But I like it in this thick smooth incarnation, mounded on my plate like a sea of rubies. This is truly a jewel to put on your table, beautifully colored and smoothly textured. You could add some spices if you like, but it is really at its best in 3-ingredient simplicity.

Another favorite is a turnip-pear purée which is just begging to have something meaty and juicy placed on top of it. The sweetness of the pears counters the slight bitter note of turnips and I like to think that this trumps mashed potatoes in two ways: turnips are lower in carbs and calories than potatoes, and they also can be done in the food processor without any worry of the mixture becoming gluey. For picky kids, purées are also good ways to sneak in vegetables, adding a touch of kale or broccoli and disquising it with a bit of cheese. The vibrant color of this broccoli mash is sure to appeal to the kid in anyone. Once you start experimenting, you'll find the comfort of vegetable purées is also a space for interesting flavor combinations, here are three to get you started:

Beet-Orange Purée
2 large beets
1 small potato
1 orange, juiced and zested

1. Wrap the beets and potato in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven 20 minutes for the potato, 45 minutes for the beets, until cooked through. When the beets and potato are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them. Transfer to a food processor or blender and add 1/2 cup of the orange juice and process. It may take a little while, but it should become a smooth mixture, add more orange juice if necessary to get the desired consistency. Add a bit of salt or coriander if desired. Place in a serving dish and grate the fresh zest over top.

Note: You can boil the beets if you’re in a rush, or even (shhh) use canned ones.

Broccoli Mash
1 head broccoli
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbl butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan or cheddar
1/4 cup warm milk

1. Chop the florets from the broccoli and chop some of the thick stalk. Put the broccoli in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Boil until the broccoli stalks are tender, about 8 minutes. Put the broccoli in a food processor and process to finely chop.
2. Meanwhile, in another pot, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry very well. (Note: to save space, sometimes I steam the broccoli in a colander set over the boiling potatoes.)
3. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over very low heat. Add the potatoes, smashing the potatoes with a potato masher and stirring to encorporate the butter, so that you mave a smooth mash. Remove from heat, add the cheese and milk, and whip with a fork until fluffy and smooth. Add the broccoli and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Turnip Pear Purée
My go-to recipe for holidays and gatherings, I like it as much or more than the usual mashed-potatoes. This is also good substituting apples for pears or parsnips for turnips, and is lovely sitting underneath a pile of short ribs or portabello mushrooms braised in red wine.

3 lbs turnips, peeled and chopped
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pinch each cinnamon and allspice
4 medium pears, peeled, cored, and diced*
4 tbl butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup cream or milk
salt and fresh ground white pepper

1. Cook the parsnips and potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender, drain.
2. In a small pan melt 1 tbl of the butter, add the pears and spices and cook over medium heat until the pears are very soft. Remove the pears from the heat and toss in the remaining 3 tbl butter so that it melts.
3. Put the pears, turnips, and potatoes in a food processor and process until combined. Add the milk and process until smooth. Taste and season the puree with salt and pepper.

* I've taken to using pear baby food, which is really just pureed pears, in place of preparing the pears myself. It saves time and makes the puree easier to combine smoothly.

07 December 2006

Best Yet Butternut...

I am a terrible recipe-tweaker. I have to admit I spend a lot of time reading recipes for inspiration but when I get in the kitchen, I’m like a rebellious teenager, blasting loud music in the form of splashes of cumin and rock salt.

Take, for example, the classic butternut squash soup. A staple of my cold-weather table, I never quite make it the same way twice. If there are apples in the kitchen I might toss those in the pot, maybe the base will have carrots, or potatoes, depending on what’s in the pantry. Ameretto crumbles make a lovely garnish. And can we please forget the time I made curried squash soup when I had a cold, and I kept adding more curry paste because I couldn’t taste it. Thank goodness I realized the error before I burned the tongues off my twelve dinner guests.

However, I think by not following recipes to the letter I can also miss out on things. There is, after all, a reason why great chefs do things the way they do, and sometimes a very simple technique can make the world of difference. I had clipped a recipe by the notoriously-picky Thomas Keller for butternut squash soup, and I would follow it.

I was a good soldier, I roasted, I simmered, I peeled those annoying squash necks. The recipe calls for homemade vegetable stock, and luckily I had some of my own in the freezer. And the result? Divine. Wonderfully flavorful and deceptively simple. I sat down with my soup on the second day and thought, “this is my best soup yet.” I won’t deviate anymore, although maybe next time I’ll just add some...
Buternut Squash Soup
adapted from Thomas Keller
3 to 3 1/2 lbs butternut squash
2 tbl olive oil
salt and fresh black pepper
2 sage sprigs
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
3/4 cup thinly sliced small shallots
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
6 cups vegetable stock
a bouquet garni of 2 thyme sprigs, 2 flat parsley stalks, 2 bay leaves, a few peppercorns

- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut off the necks of the squash, then cut the bodies in half and scoop out the seeds. Brush the halves with a little bit of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet and roast until very tender, about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and chop the squash necks, you should have about 3-4 cups of squash. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Add the leeks, carrots, and shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and garlic, some salt and pepper, and cook another 3 minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer and cook until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, scoop the flesh from the roasted squash halves. Add the flesh to the pot and let the soup simmer another 30 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the soup until very smooth.
- Serving options:
creme fraiche, crispy sage leaves, browned butter, or chives

05 December 2006

Outside the Box Baking

What is it about holiday baking that is so instinctive? Every year, as the weather gets cold, and the holiday decorations go up, I find myself creaming butter and sugar or melting chocolate, stocking up on flour. Unlike my usual planned, thought-out baking endeavors, it’s as if some carnal force has taken my by the hand and led me, unconcious, into the kitchen. Bake, they tell me, and I comply.

This year, I told myself I wouldn’t do any baking; I am moving yet again, all my pans are packed away and I have empty cupboards. It hasn’t even been cold yet. But a few days and a coldsnap later where do I find myself but digging through boxes, spilling scarves and dishes out onto the living room floor, just so I can find that little tin of nutmeg that has to be here somewhere. And after repacking my boxes, I realize that the microplane zester also must have been in there somewhere, prying open the box again, if I could just put my hand on it.

So I succomb, let the holiday baking begin. At least I can share them with you here throughout the season. With all the flour flying, the holidays are the time to pull out some family favorites and also experiment with new recipes. The famous Dorie Greenspan chocolate cookies which have been published as korova cookies, Pierre Herme’s Chocolate Sables, and World Peace cookies (recipe here), are always welcome at our house, that is, if we don't nibble most of the delectable dough from the freezer. Two new favorites are the following: Lebkuchen, a spicy gingerbread-like cookie which happen to keep well and are surprisingly low-fat. And a nice twist on chocolate chip cookies, except made with thin slivers of shaved chocolate and chunks of almond, in a recipe I adapted from David Lebovitz.

What old favorites are you resurrecting, what new recipes are you trying? Either way, you go get baking now, I'm going to clean up my boxes.

My mom always picked up a box of these around the holidays. I was pleased to find they are easy to make and keep very well, especially if you tuck a slice of apple with them in a sealed container.

3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
2 teaspoons lemon or orange peel
2 1/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
3 rounded tablespoons diced crystallized ginger, finely ground

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the honey and brown sugar to a boil while stirring occasionally. Remove the mixture from the heat and cool it until it's just warm.
2. When the mixture is cooled beat in the egg and the peel. Add the flour, baking soda, almonds, spices and ground crystallized ginger and beat until very well-combined. The dough will be on the stiff side, but also very sticky. At this point you can go ahead and bake the cookies but they will be even better if your refrigerate the dough overnight and bake the next day.
3. Preheat the oven to 350, grease your baking sheets. Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick. You can cut into simple bars or into shapes, transfer them to the baking sheets. Bake 20 minutes, do not let brown. Let cool.
4. To glaze, you can stir together 1 cup powdered sugar and 3 tableespoons water (or brandy!) and brush over.

Chocolate Almond Cookies
These are wonderfully crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle, I like the more delicate texture of grated chocolate here, but use chips or chunks if you prefer.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups flour + pinch salt
1 cup grated dark chocolate
1 cup whole almonds, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F, line your baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
2. In a bowl, cream the sugars and the butter together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt, then add to the mix. Fold in the chocolate and nuts.
3. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons on the baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until pale golden brown.

04 December 2006

Dates: Squared

This recipe tastes like home. I don’t care if you grew up on a desert island eating coconuts and spearing lizards, or if you've never had a date before, this is simple comfort food in the way that only warm spices can be. I didn’t grow up with date bars, but I love them with the fervor of any good born-again convert.

First of all, you get to crumble together butter and flour with your fingers, and there’s nothing quite as calming as rubbing butter. Then, there’s the smell of cinnamon and oats coming from your oven, wafting through your house with the potency of a Martha Stewart nerve gas. The bars themselves, the dates melting into the oats, soft thick middles with a little bit of crispness on top, are the kind of thing a housewife would pack into a tin and take to her new neighbors, back in the days when neighbors still talked to each other.

These are simple to make, and that’s exactly what you should do. And then go make friends with your neighbors. Or, if you live in a very tiny New York apartment, your neighbors may come knocking on your door, drawn by the smell, and looking for home.

Date Bars
You may want to double this if you have a lot of neighbors or friends.

1 cup water
1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and chopped*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup oats (not instant)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F, grease an 8x8 baking tin.
2. In a small saucepan combine the dates and water and bring to a boil. Simmer until the dates are very soft and thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and set aside.
3. Combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into bits and add to the flour mixture, rub the butter in with your fingertips. Press half the oat mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the date mixture over the oats, then top with the remaining oat mixture, pressing down gently. Bake for about 40 minutes, until set in the middle and the top is golden brown. Let cool, then cut into bars.

*Please buy whole dates and chop them yourself with a greased kitchen knife.

03 December 2006

To begin

I am the last person you would expect to have a blog. It sounds so, technical, so trendy. But after reading many cooking blogs and websites, I wanted a space to share my own cooking endeavors. So here we are, discovering new recipes and rediscovering old ones, and writing about the ways food brings us together.

And the name, you might ask? It refers to one of my favorite foods, dates. There is nothing quite like coming upon an oasis of date palms, vibrant green amidst miles and miles of nothing but sand. Sweet, succulent little packages of carbohydrate balance, dates are truly the desert’s candy. Unlike English, Arabic has many words for all different types of dates, referring to their stages of ripeness and varieties.

Young dates, balah, are still yellow and have a pleasant crunchy tang similar to a Granny Smith Apple.

As the dates age they gain brown spots and their insides turn caramelly-soft; it looks like the fruit is going bad, but don’t throw them away! In this middle stage, the dates can be wonderfully juicy and sweet-tart.

Finally, the gewey dates in the form most familiar to us. There are thousands of varieties, and you can read a lovely essay about the date-growing culture here. In the United States, I prefer the large Medjool dates, while in Oman, the preferred date is tiny and jewel-like, khlas and deglet noor are good varieties. Date paste and date syrup (dibs) are readily available in Middle Eastern markets.

And of course, besides eating them out of hand, dates are great to add to both savory and sweet dishes. But we’ll get to that next time...