Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dates and Butter (and Goodbyes)

We’ve been leading up to two goodbyes in our household.  Did I mention they are happening on the same day?  That’s a lot for one mom to handle.  My first goodbye will be my younger son, Isaac.  He is going to Japan to visit Kyoto, Hiroshima and Kanazawa with his Japanese class from middle school.  Big sigh… so far away.  He will have a marvelous two week experience and I’m excited for him.

The second farewell is our exchange student, Mohammad.  We’ve been hosting Mohammad for the past year from Saudi Arabia.  What a special year!  He is 17 years old and truly became our son and brother.  We learned about each others’ cultures, countries and religions, and mostly realized how much we have in common.  Mohammad and my sons, Sam and Isaac, share so many of the same interests.  The sounds of them laughing and chatting together every day makes me smile.  Sports, music, movies, Xbox... all part of the universal language of teenaged boys. Hosting exchange students has allowed our family to expand in such a unique way.  I love that we can bring someone into our home and hearts and establish a relationship that will grow over the years.

It is fun for me to learn about traditional foods that Mohammad eats, especially for the holidays of Ramadan, Eid al Fitr and Eid al Ahda. He shared a simple Ramadan treat with us that is divine.  In Arabic, it is called Tamr Bizebdah, which translates as Dates and Butter.  Hmmmm … dates and butter.    Sweet, rich, sticky and addictive.  Dates are abundant in Saudi Arabia and there are many varieties.  Often, this date and butter dish is referred to by the name of the dates used to make it.  When Mohammad first told us about this treat, he said, “You might not like it.”  When I asked why, he said, “It has a lot of butter in it.”  I smiled and said, “I already love it!”  He cooks pureed dates with butter until it forms a soft pudding which is served warm.  During Ramadan, the first food eaten each evening to break the fast is a date.  Children are given this date and butter confection and it is understandably very popular with them.  It is often served with Arabic coffee or a thick yogurt drink.

During our dinner to celebrate Eid al Ahda, we did a tasting with medjool, golden zahidi and deglet noor dates.  Medjool are the ones that we see here most often and it was wonderful to compare sweetness and textures.  The deglet noor became my favorite.  Expanding on the theme of dates and butter, I made a Date Butter Tart for dessert from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

Mohammad also introduced us to Vimto, and we dubbed it “Saudi soda.”  It has a flavor similar to Red Bull, which kids love. He described it to us as something special that he drinks during the holidays.  Imagine our thrill when we discovered it while eating at an Egyptian restaurant, Shawarma King, in Seattle!   I found I could purchase Vimto at Goodies Mediterranean Market.

The official exchange year may be coming to an end, but the future with Mohammad is just beginning.  Dates and butter (and Vimto) will always remind me of him and his infectious laugh.  And fortunately I’ll say hello to Isaac again in two weeks.  A mom can only take so much at one time!

Dates and Butter (Tamr Bizebdah)
from Mohammad
serves 3-4 children or 6-8 adults (it’s very rich)

13 oz date puree  (I have found packages in Middle Eastern markets of good quality date purees, or you can pit and puree whole dates with a little water to form a paste)
4 oz unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and swirl so it coats the sides of the pan.  This keeps the dates from sticking to the pan.  Add the date puree and stir with a wooden spoon until the dates absorb all the butter. This will take about 10 minutes.   Serve in small glass bowls and enjoy.

Date Butter Tart
from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
serves 6-8

For the pate sucree:

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 extra large egg yolk
11/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
31/2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspsoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter

For the tart:

35 to 40 deglet noor dates (another variety may be used, just make sure they’re plump and juicy)
1/2 vanilla bean
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 extra large eggs
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Vanilla ice cream

Make the pate sucree: Whisk the cream and egg yolk together in a small bowl.  In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal.  (Or use a food processor and pulse until you have a coarse meal.)  Gradually add the cream and yolk and mix until just combined.  Do not overwork the dough.  Transfer to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely.  Shape it into a 1-inch disc and put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up.  Place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough and roll it out into a 1/4 -inch-thick circle.  Starting at one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up.  Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan.  Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers.  To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice, clean edge.  Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and line the tart shell with a piece of parchment paper.  Fill the lined tart shell with beans or pie weights and bake 15 minutes.  Take the tart out of the oven and gently lift out the paper and beans.  Return to the oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the tart is an even golden brown.  Set aside on a rack to cool completely.

Make a vertical slit in each date and carefully remove the pit.  Use your finger to press the dates back into their natural shape.  Place the dates, slit side down, in concentric circles in the tart shell, leaving 1/2 inch between each date.

Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter.  Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute.  Add the vanilla-streaked butter and the vanilla pod to the pan and cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the butter browns and smells nutty.  Discard the vanilla pod.

Whisk the eggs and 2/3 cup sugar together in a bowl.  Whisk in the flour and salt and stir in the warm butter to incorporate.

Pour the batter over the dates in the tart shell.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake 30 minutes, until the filling puffs up, browns and sets.  Cool tart at least 20 minutes and serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. 


  1. Mmmm dates and butter sounds delicious. I love dates! How cool that you've opened your home to a foreign exchange student.

    I hope Isaac has a great time in Japan. You're awfully brave, sending your middle schooler to a foreign country! I know I'm not ready for that; it's a good thing I'm not a parent yet.

  2. @Lauren Hairston
    I hope you get to try one of these date recipes. Really yummy!
    It's a great experience to host exchange students. This was our 4th student we've hosted. My husband's family hosted 3 times while he was growing up and then he was an exchange student, too. I love how his family grew in this way and am happy we are doing it, too.
    Isaac is having a blast with his group in Japan. They have a blog they're updating so it's fun to read about their adventures.


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