Dates are a symbol of the Arab world and the cultivation of dates goes back to centuries to probably the 6000-8000 BC and are considered to be the first cultivated crop in the world. Before the manufacture of sugar, dates, puréed or processed, were used as a sweetener around the world. Even today, it isan integral part of Middle eastern cuisine , found in every type of dish from soups to salads and savory main courses. Dates are always seen in almost every Arab household, they are used to greet guests and signify hospitality.
This ice cream is a newer addition to Arab cuisine. The main sweetener here is date sugar from the fruit, it adds a wonderfully nuanced earthy delight to the ice cream that is complimented by the rose water and ground cardamom. Decadently rich and with a wonderful mouth feel, this ice cream is one I will definitely make again.
For this dessert I like to use medjool dates, they are considered to be the best flavored dates in the world by most prominent chefs. They are very soft, have a deep caramel color and are loaded with sugars and wonderful deep flavors. However, you can substitute dates of your choice if you prefer.
This cookbook is so much more than a collection of recipes, but a history of a culture and its contribution to the cuisines of the world. The author has travelled extensively to research this cookbook, and this is evident in the introduction to the book and each recipe. Filled with historical notes and tidbits of information, I can sit and read this cookbook as a novel.
For more recipes from the amazing cookbook, click here.
1 tablespoon cornstarch or 1/2 tablespoon salep*
2 cups full fat milk
1/4 cup jaggery or raw sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, plus to taste
1 1/2 cups dates, medjool dates preferred, or any other variety soft dates
1 cup cream
Slivered pistachios, lightly toasted, for garnish
Whisk the cornstarch or salep into 1/2 cup milk and set aside.
Heat the remaining of the milk with the sugar, add the milk with cornstarch in a slow stream continually whisking the mix. Continue to slowly simmer the milk, continually whisking the mix, till the cornstarch cooks and thickens the milk to a light custard-like consistency, about 8-10 minutes. Add the rose water and cardamom and mix in. Taste and adjust the flavors, the ice cream will be less sweet, but the dates will add a lot of sugar so do not worry about it. Take off the heat and allow to cool, mixing every minute or so, initially, so a layer does not form on top of the hot milk.
Add most of the dates, keep about 4 aside, into a food processor and add the cream and cooked milk. Process to a smooth consistency. For a wonderfully textured ice cream, I like to work the mix through a fine sieve strainer with a rubber spatula to remove any skins and bits that have not completely disappeared. You can also re-process the skins and bits of dates a second time if there are a lot left and strain again.
Chop the remaining dates and set aside.
Chill the mix and churn in an ice cream maker as per the manufacturers instructions, adding the chopped dates in the last 10 minutes so they just about get mixed into the ice cream. Alternatively, you can freeze the mix in a freezer directly mixing the chopped dates in affter about 3-4 hours when the mix is semi-solid.
Serve topped with slivered pistachios.
*Salep, also spelled sahlep or sahlab, is a flour made from the tubers of the orchid genus Orchis found primarily in Turkey and Iran. It started being used during the Ottoman Empire as a thickener for milk and other beverages and desserts. The tubers have a complex sugar, called glucomannan, that binds to water and preventing the molecules from crystalizing into ice. This causes the ice creams to have a creamer and elastic consistency. A suitable substitute for salep is corn starch, but it is not the same.