This week Muslim around the world began this year’s observance of the Ramadan fasting season, obligatory for all adult and physically fit believers and regarded as one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.This holy month is celebrated all over the world with great enthusiasm and joy.
In my country, one of the most populous Muslim countries in the World, Ramadan has become the most celebrated and awaited month of the year. When Ramadan approaches, Indonesia suddenly turns into a state of festivity.
The faithful who fast wake up early in the morning to have a meal before dawn (sahur). In order to awaken the faithful, the call to prayer is sounded from neighborhood mosques. In addition, groups of young boys walk around neighborhoods beating on drums and other noise makers to awaken the faithful (and their neighbors) yelling out “sahur, sahur.
The breaking of the fast at sunset is a very social occasion for which special foods are prepared for gatherings with family or friends. Upon hearing the sound of the bedug drum on the television or the call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque at sunset, the faithful know it’s time to break their fast, or buka puasa. This is usually done with a sweet drinks and sweet foods.
One of the popular sweet foods is date or known as “kurma’ in my country. It is considered as ‘Holy Fruit’.
Why dates in Ramadan?
Dates are known as the food Muhammad ate when he broke his fast. And during the dawn of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad lived for months on dates and water alone. It has been reported in Hadith that a house without dates is a hungry household. He also reported that if seven dates accompanied with water were to be consumed every morning, one is protected from disease and evil.
The special kind of date he referred to is called ‘Ajwa dates’ also known as ‘kurma Nabi’, literally means dates of the Prophet.
Dates are an excellent source of fiber, sugar, magnesium, potassium, and carbohydrates which is good for maintaining health. The carbohydrates found in dates also make the fruit a slower digesting food, much better than fried or fatty foods which digest fast and leave one hungry for more!
A date fruit is the product of a date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), a tree native to Northern Africa and the Middle East, although it is also cultivated in other parts of the world.
In addition to being eaten fresh, the date fruit is dried and eaten whole as a snack or included in an assortment of desserts. Many regional Middle Eastern cuisines incorporate dates, as do Mediterranean cuisines like those of Italy and Greece. Dried dates are usually readily available in most markets, and fresh dates can be found in specialty markets in season.
There are many types of dates such as Deglet Nour, Medjool and Ajwa. Depending on the variety, the dates may be higher in natural sugars, or have an intense honey like flavor. As the date fruit dries, the sugars will concentrate in the dense, moist flesh, ultimately forming sugar crystals on the outside of the date. If a date has formed sugar crystals, it is usually less than ideal to eat, as the flesh will be dry and leathery.
When selecting dates, look for plump, evenly colored specimens. All dates have a single long seed, but they can range in shape from oblong to round, depending on the cultivar. The date should not look dry or withered, and no crystals should appear on the exterior of the date. Fresh dates will last for up to two weeks under refrigeration, while preserved dates can last much longer, depending on how they are preserved.
Biting through the paper-thin skin of a medjool to the juicy sweetness of the flesh beneath, it seems impossible that anyone could not appreciate the wonders of dates. One of the “fruits of paradise” in Islamic tradition, they can be used for everything from omelettes to dips, and are pretty nutritious to boot.
Dates are nuggets of nutrition that satisfy a sweet tooth, making them ideal snacks to stave off hunger. True, dates provide more calories than most fruits, but they make a great substitute for processed sweets, like candy, to help you stick to your weight-loss routine. Dates are sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, and a good source of fiber — all of which are important factors in keeping the kg off.
Loaded with fiber — both soluble and insoluble — dates are able to fill you up and keep your bowel habits regular. They are an excellent source of potassium and provide numerous other important vitamins and minerals — quite a powerhouse packed in a tiny, portable package.
Dates are great on their own, but for an extra-special treat, try stuffing them with whole almonds or chopped pieces of walnuts or pecans. For a spicy twist, tuck in a piece of crystallized ginger root.
Adding dates to home-baked breads, cakes, muffins, and cookies adds richness and nutrition to otherwise ordinary recipes. And the natural moisture of dates adds to the quality of the final product.
Dates work well in fruit compotes, salads, and desserts. Chopped or slivered, dates can even be sprinkled on side dishes like rice, couscous, or vegetables. To slice or chop dates, chill them first. The colder they are, the easier they are to slice.