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Posts Tagged ‘Dates’

Ma’amoul ~ Date-filled Eid Pastries

August 26th, 2011 35 comments

Ma’amoul are delicate little stuffed pastries that are served all over the Arab world for Eid and Easter. They have several fillings—dates, walnuts or pistachios—and they come in a variety of shapes. Sometimes they are made with semolina, sometimes flour.

I use a special wooden mold to shape my ma’amoul. Round, shallow molds are for dates, while oval and deeper molds are for nuts. If you don’t have a mold, you can shape the ma’amoul in your hand with the tines of a fork.

Meanwhile, many Arab women use little decorative pinchers to create intricate designs in their ma’amoul.

 These pastries are all about the dates. Use the best quality dates you can get. I use these large dark-colored dates from the Gulf.

Below is our family recipe that I have made for Eid-al-fitr and Eid-al-adha for the past 15 years.

 

Ma’amoul

Makes about 36 pastries

1 kg (2 lbs.) high-quality dates (or less)

2½ c flour

½ lb. (two sticks or 227 g) unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon rose water

4 Tablespoons milk

Sifted confectioner’s sugar for dusting the pastries

 

Method

1. Remove pits from dates. Take a walnut-sized amount of dates and roll into a ball. When forming each ball, double check there are no pits. All of this handling should make the dates malleable and easy to shape. If the dates are sticking to your hands, rub your hands with a little butter. If your dates are dry and stiff, coarsely chop the 1 kg of pitted dates and put them in a saucepan with ½ cup water. Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the dates soften. Roll the dates into 36 walnut-sized balls. (There may be leftover dates.)

2. To prepare the dough, begin by sifting the flour into a large mixing bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your hands or a pastry blender. Add rose water, followed by milk. Work the dough until it is soft and easy to shape.

3. Divide dough into four equal parts. Roll the dough into 36 balls. (Each quarter should make about nine balls of dough.) The dough balls should be about the same size as the date balls—the size of a small walnut.

4. Fill the dough balls with dates. First, flatten a ball of dough with your thumb and make a hollow. Press a date ball into the hollow. Pinch the dough back over the date filling, making a ball shape. Do this with all 36 balls.

 

5. Next press the filled dough balls one by one into the ma’amoul mold. To snap the dough out of the mold, tap the tip of the mold against the edge of the counter with a firm quick movement. With the other hand, catch the ma’amoul and place it on an un-greased cookie sheet. Dust some flour inside the mold if it’s sticking. Don’t worry about imperfections. They will be covered up by the confectioner’s sugar.

6. If you do not have a mold, flatten the balls slightly and decorate the sides and tops by using a fork.

7. Bake in a preheated slow oven (350°F, gas mark 3) for 15 to 20 minutes. Baking ma’amoul is a delicate operation and requires attention. The bottom-side of the ma’amoul will be slightly browned, but the tops should appear soft and uncooked. If the pastry tops become brown, they will become hard and their taste will be spoiled. Upon cooling, the pastries will become firm.

8. Cool ma’amoul on a cooling rack. When they are cold, dust confectioner’s sugar over them. They keep for at least a week in a tightly closed tin.

On Eid morning in the Arab world, it’s the custom to go visiting family, neighbors and friends. The host typically offers coffee and date- or nut- filled pastry, served up with some witty conversation. Some people may visit a dozen homes on Eid, stuffing themselves with coffee, sweets and the latest gossip.

If you’d like to try another variation, I also have a recipe for Nut-filled Ma’amoul.

Question: What sweet do you serve on Eid? How do you make your ma’amoul?

Favorite Things about the United Arab Emirates

June 18th, 2011 7 comments

A few of my favorite things about the United Arab Emirates:

Favorite Book from the UAE

Whenever a fellow expat complains to me about the UAE, I say to them, “There’s a book you should read.”

I tell them about From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club about six years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Favorite Food from the UAE

Dates! I didn’t appreciate them until I moved to Dubai. Now we eat them almost every day; we serve them to guests and give them as gifts when we travel. Dates are abundant in the UAE and are part of the traditional diet.

When an Emirati friend gives me a big box of dates—as they sometimes do, as many Emiratis have family date farms—I save them to make ma’amoul, date-filled pastries for Eid. Recently, on the day of the Royal Wedding, I made Date Scones.

The time of the year when dates are most important is Ramadan. For thirty days we break our fast by eating dates. Many people claim that dates have extraordinary nutritional value. I don’t know about that, but I like to think it’s true since I eat dates like candy.

Favorite Feature of Emirati Culture

To anyone who says “Emirati culture is dying,” I direct them to the UAE national dress, worn by virtually all Emirati nationals. To me, it’s evidence of strong national pride and no desire whatsoever to assimilate to the dress of the expats filling their country.

And why should they when they have a superb local dress of their own?

The women wear the abaya, a light and flowing cloak—always black, but often with a colorful or sparkly trim—loose-fitting, worn over their clothing, sometimes partially open, sometimes not. This is typically topped with the shayla, a long black scarf. The ways to wrap and pin it are endless and depend upon the personal style and modesty of the woman. Several ways to wear the shayla are here and here, and how to create those amazing head bumps.

The men wear the kandura (dishdash in other dialects)—usually white but sometimes beige, sand or even dark blue. The head cloth is called a gutra, and the black cord to secure it, an agal. The men also have choices on how to wear their gutra, depending on season and preference.

When I’m in the mall, and a group of Emirati women glides past me, their heels clicking, abayas fluttering, heads wrapped artistically in the shayla—honestly, it’s hard not to stare; they look so striking. The same can be said of the men in their luminous white kanduras and carefully folded gutra.

Tell me your favorite thing about the UAE.