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My first trip to the Taj Mahal in India was with a a friend whoose family traded Iranian carpets . It inspired me to taste the delights of Iranian food.  Now, with the recent violent deterioration in Iraq and the renewed conflict in Gaza I was reminded of “Sweet Dates in Basra” by Jessica Jiji which I read years ago.

Jiji is a UN ambassador but writes of Jewish and Muslims happily side by side in preIndependent Iraq and how the rise of Nationalism and Independence corresponded with the rise of rise of Israel effecting neighbours and friends of different viewpoints and faiths.

It is a brilliant novel I encourage anyone to read.

Ms Jilli was inspired by her father’s rich experiences of growing up in Iraq in the 1940s. Unlike the war-torn country we see on the news, this was a place of family, friendship and warmth. By naming Iraq’s most emblematic fruit in the title, I hoped to suggest two other meanings for ‘dates’: the romantic encounters between two lovers and the promising time when they meet, after independence but before the Second World War.

She once released this Date recipe and this is it.

“For millennia, people knew dates as a wonder fruit that can promote everything from fertility to longevity, and modern science has confirmed their many nutritional benefits. In my experience, these cookies prove that dates can also be addictive!” she writes.

I agree. Until I had travelled to India I had no idea how many types of dates there were. Many imported from Arabian states. I was spell bound.

So while this is not strictly Indian, it matches well with my Indian culinary experience. I hope you enjoy it.

 For the dough:

2 cups of white flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
½ stick of butter
1 packet of yeast
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt

For the filling:

½ pound of pitted dates, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of water

For the coating:

1 egg white
3 tablespoons of sesame seeds

To make the dough:

Soak the yeast in the water for 10-15 minutes.
Melt the butter; while it is melting whisk the flours and salt in a mixing bowl.
Whisk the melted butter into the yeast and then add that mixture to the flours.
Knead into a smooth dough but do not over mix.
Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise until doubled, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two cookie trays with parchment paper.

To make the filling:

While the dough is rising, gently simmer the dates, butter and water in a saucepan, stirring frequently for 7-10 minutes to make a soft mixture. Remove from heat and let it cool.

To form the cookies:

When the dough is ready, roll it into walnut-sized balls and flatten to make a circle about two inches in diameter. Place a ball of the date filling the size of a hazelnut at the center, gently gather the edges of the dough over the filling and press them together. Turn the dough over and press it gently to flatten until it is about 2 ½ inches in diameter, so flat so you almost see the dates through the dough. Dip it into the egg white and then sprinkle on both sides with sesame seeds. Repeat until you have used all of the dough and filling.

Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet and prick them with a fork so they do not puff (you can make a circular design or spokes for visual effect). Bake for about 10 minutes on the middle shelf and then 5 more minutes on the top, until golden

Makes about 18 cookies.

 

… and by the way. I really do recommend the novel “Sweet Dates in Basra” by Jessica Jiji.

 

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