Hais (Date and Nut Treats)

Hais: Take excellent dried bread or biscuit (ka’k) and pound it well. Let there be a pound (ratl) or it and three quarters of a pound (ratl) of fresh or preserved dates – let their seeds have been removed – and three ounces (uqiya) of pounded almond and pistachio meats. Macerate everything well and strongly by hand. Then refine two ounces (uqiya) of sesame oil (by frying spices in them) and pour it on it. Knead it continuously until it is mixed. Make it into balls and dust them in finely pounded sugar. If you want, replace the sesame oil with clarified butter. This is good for travelers. Kitab al Tabikh Chapter X (The Book of Dishes, trans. Charles Perry and published as A Baghdad Cookery Book).

In Middle Eastern cultures, sweet dishes are not served at the end of the meal – instead fresh fruit is eaten. Dishes such as these tend to be reserved for celebrations or social occasions, and are an important part of guest hospitality. However sweet dishes are not exclusively served only at special times – they can be eaten whenever desired (Salloum et all, 2013, 1).

Hais developed from a Bedouin dish (Salloum et all, 2013, 211), as suggested by the direction that it is good for travelers. No doubt the Bedouin version was much simpler than the Baghdad version.

Equivalents of weights and measures
Ratl 400g
Uqiya 33g
(Perry, 2005, 22).

Ingredients

For explanations of the ingredients, see the Notes below.

400g bread crumbs 65mL virgin sesame oil
300g pitted dates ½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g almonds ½ tsp ground ginger
50g pistachios 20g caster sugar

Method

  1. Put the pistachios in a bowl of boiling water for about 10 minutes, then rub off the skins. Allow to dry.
  2. In a mortar and pestle or food processor, roughly grind the nuts. They don’t have to be finely or consistently ground.
  3. Add the dates and bread crumbs to the mortar and pestle or food processor, and process until the mix has come together. If using the mortar and pestle, use the pestle until the dates are mashed, then use your hands.
  4. Put the sesame oil and spices in a frypan, and fry over a medium heat until you can smell the spices.
  5. Pour the spiced oil over the date, bread crumb and nut mix, and continue to process until the mixture binds well.
  6. Roll the mix into balls, then roll these balls into the caster sugar until they are well coated.
  7. The Hais will keep very well in an airtight container in a cool place. However they are unlikely to remain uneaten for long.

Notes

  • It is far better to make your own breadcrumbs rather than use bought ones – the texture of freshly made crumbs is superior. You can either use a fine grater or a food processor to produce breadcrumbs.
  • If you are used to Asian cooking you’ll assume sesame oil should only be used sparingly, as the type of sesame oil used in Asian cooking can be overpowering if used heavily. However, this type of sesame oil is produced from toasted sesame seeds, which heavily concentrates the sesame flavour and aroma. If you are familiar with modern Indian or Middle Eastern cooking, you might have come across virgin or cold-pressed sesame oil, which is much paler and more subtly flavoured. This is the sort you need to use for baking.If are going to be cooking for anyone with a sesame allergy, almond oil, rice bran oil or canola oil make good substitutes (the last two don’t have any flavour).
  • Refining oil means to gently fry spices in it. As with medieval European recipes, specific spices are often not specified. The spices I have chosen are popular additions to Middle Eastern sweets.
  • Clarified butter is also known as ghee – butter with the milk solids removed. You can buy it in supermarkets or Indian or Middle Eastern grocers, or make your own. Heat butter over a gentle heat until it is completely melted and bubbling. You will see a white scum on the surface. These are the milk solids. Strain the melted butter through a strainer lined with a double layer of muslin and you will be left with lovely clear clarified butter. Because the solids are the bit that makes butter go rancid, clarified butter does not need to be stored in the fridge. Some lactose intolerant people are fine with clarified butter, as most of the lactose is
    removed with the solids. This is also great for people with sesame allergies.

Hais

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Perry, Charles (2005). A Baghdad Cookery Book.
Salloum, Habeeb; Salloum, Muna and Salloum Elias, Leila (2013). Sweet Delights from a Thousand and One Nights.

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