Saturday, April 6, 2013

Scent of the Sahara

بِسْــــــــــــــــــــــمِ اﷲِارَّحْمَنِ ارَّحِيم
السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

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It's usually spring in Algeria ... the prefect time to honor one of those treasured foods Allah has created ..... Picture this ... the Sahara, a typical Mozabite minaret pointing its four fingers towards the heaven. A dizzying river of dry sienna colored sand sweeps your eyes into a haze. Palm groves forming the only hint of lush green in this vast neutral barren land. A man dressed in blue rides by on a camel. Tied  to the camel is a donkey carrying a full crop of dates. He smiles at you and passed down to a date: desert candy, the manna of the dwellers of Paradise. 

Some say the God made the palm tree from the leftover clay that HE used to create Adam. While others have another story. When the God drove Adam out Eden, the angel Gabreel (Gabriel) came to him saying "Put your trust in God, HE will provide for thee" And he did ... soon after the earth spawned a little green stem with long thin green leaves. Gabriel then had revealed that this was the all nourishing date palm. And placed the sweet nourishing fruit in his mouth. In amazement Adam thrown himself down, praising the God. - whether they are true or not, to me they are both interesting tales.

Modern science has proved that dates are part of a healthy diet. They contain sugar, fat and proteins, as well as important vitamins. Hence the great importance attached to them by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) used to eat daily 7 dates.

One date contains about 50mg of potasssium. Eating 7 dates a day you will have around 10% of your daily limit of potassium. The minimum requirement being around 3.6grams per day.

Allah the Almighty mentioned date palm trees many times in the Qur'an, and made it the food of the dwellers of Paradise, So what are the secrets of this great nutriment?

Is it possible to think of using dates as remedy for some diseases? What do scientists of today say about dates? Dates are one of the most nourishing fruits and they're called sometimes “Bread of Desert”.

More than two third of dates’ weight is natural sugar. This fruit was highly esteemed by the ancient civilizations more than 5000 years ago; ancient Egyptians considered dates as a symbol of fertility, while the Romans and the Greeks used it to ornament their stately triumph pageants.

Today, dates are widely-grown in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Spain, Italy and the United States. There are more than 600 varieties of dates.

And even the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said over 1400 years ago:

  • If the Hour (Judgment Day) is about to be established and one of you if holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”  
  • ” If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity”

Palm Trees were not only a symbol of fertility, but of hospitality in the ancient Middle East and played a central role in the life of the ancient pagan people, who considered it to be the ‘Tree of Life’. The date was for rich and poor an important source of nutrition in lands with little water and with a severe environment. In these harsh conditions the date palm tree flourished and provided food and shelter. What is more, dates are a highly portable type of food for nomadic travellers. They were used to make wine, the seeds as animal fodder and for palm seed oil, as well as the trunk for construction and the branches woven into ropes or household goods.

 No fewer than 800 uses are recorded for the date palm tree.

 In fact, the Date Palm has been with us much longer than recorded Biblical times. The earliest date palm finds were from the Old Stone-Age period, recovered from Egypt and found in Kharga Oasis’ western desert. The date palm tree features in many religions. Ancient Egyptians used date palm leaves as an emblem of longevity and for the greatest god ‘Ammon Ra’ and ‘Hathor’ the goddess of life, joy, music and fertility.

 The ancient Jews used palm leaves in worship and in the Muslim’s Qu'ran it is an especially ‘holy tree’, according to which Mary gave birth to Jesus under a palm tree.

In a number of Qur'anic verses, the humble date is honored as one of the blessings of Paradise. (Qur'an, 55:68) When this fruit is examined, it can be seen to have a great many important features. One of the oldest known species of plant, the date is today a food of preference not only for its delicious taste but also for its nutritious properties. New benefits imparted by the date are being discovered every day and has come to be used as a medicine as well as a food. These features of the date are noted in Surat Maryam:

  • ” The pains of labor drive her to the trunk of a date-palm. She (Maryam) said, "Oh if I had died before this time and as something discarded and forgotten!" A voice called out to her from under her, "Do not grieve! Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm towards you and fresh, ripe dates will drop down onto you. Eat and drink and delight your eyes ...” (Qur'an 19:23-26)
So to me there is no surprise when people, especially of South Algeria talk of the date palm tree with such expressions one would use when talking about other humans. Many natives of the desert lands consider the date palm to be as important as an aunt or uncle, as it gives life. And like man, it has the gift of fertility. Palm trees group together will form friendship that cross over into miraculous ways; if one dies then it said it will mourn for its love.

The Queen of the dates is called Deglet Nour. It is rumoured that the amber coloured sweet tender fruit named after one of the wives of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon) who was called Noura (light). She used to hang her wash in the same spot under a date tree. And upon her death, the dates from that particular trees were called Deglet Nour.

Traditionally here in Algeria, dates are consumed on a daily basis, as prescribed by the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) who ate 7 dates daily.

In fact, when entering into a traditional Algerian home, one is warmly greeted by a warm cup of fresh milk and a plate of dates. This is a sign of hospitality and welcome!

One thing you're sure to notice during your visit to Algeria is that the locals are hospitable and encourage family and friends to share their food. Even an unexpected visitor will be greeted warmly and offered a drink or dates at the very least. When I have images in my mind of the Sahara from the starting point of Ghardaïa to the end which I reached Djennet ... the scent dates, orange blossom water and spices swirls around my head. 

Drinking this dense yet sultry, syrupy concoction called date coffee by the locals. And nibbling on Bradj  - Algerian date bars. 

Today being the last day before I go back to work, I made  Khoubziette tamr (date bread) to celebrate spring with my children. After a morning of kneading and baking, we took our creations outside to enjoy. 

If just nibbling on a few dates wasn't delicious enough for you, you can easily incorporate them into you daily diet by adding chopped up dated into milkshakes, pancakes, cakes, breakfast breads, sweet yeast breads, porridge or even use the pureéd dates to make confectionary date balls. Date can also made into a natural sugar, coffee (from the seeds), date molasses or juice, which you can easily use to sweetened or enrich your dishes. I plan to do more posts on the benefits and uses of dates.

 haleeb b' tamr - Saharaoui style date milk

What's your favorite way to enjoy dates? 

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