Dates have played an important part in Moroccan cuisine for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests the cultivation of dates all the way back in 6,000 BC in Arabia. The date palm was a major source of life for thousands of people throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa and is said to have provided people with thousands of different uses including thread, mattresses, lumber, rope, and many other household and dietary uses. Dates are also very important in Islam with the date palm regarded as the “tree of life” as mentioned in the Story of Genesis and also eaten to ceremoniously break fast during Ramadan.
Because of its arid deserts, Morocco is the perfect place for cultivating dates and today boasts over 100 different varieties of dates with 45 of those in the south of Morocco alone. Of the many different varieties of dates the most popular are the Medjool, Algerian stuffed date, and the Halawi date. The Draa, or the Draa Valley, in Morocco is known as the “Country of the Dates” as its hot arid temperatures offer the date palm the perfect climate to thrive.
The largest and perhaps the best-known variety of the Moroccan dates is the Medjool date. Often referred to as “the king of dates” it was once reserved only for Moroccan royalty and their guests. They were, and still are, considered a precious confection and are typically the most expensive of the date varieties because their cultivation is more labor intensive. The date has a soft wrinkled flesh that gives way to a firm meaty center. When ripe, the date turns a dark brown color and with hints of wild honey, caramel, and cinnamon it is no wonder this date is considered a gourmet dessert.
In the 1920’s date palms in Morocco were threatened with extinction by a disease, to save their dates Morocco sent eleven date palms to the USA. Nine of the eleven palms survived and are responsible for the millions of Medjool Dates that can be found throughout California and in parts of Arizona.
The Deglet Noor date, originally from Algeria, are the dates commonly used in Moroccan stuffed date recipes. Primarily an export crop, these dates are semi-dry with a firm texture and a sweet and delicate flavor. Ranging from a light red to amber color these dates actually make up 90 percent of the Californian date crop and can be found in many Moroccan tagine recipes.
The Halawi Date is a soft wrinkled date with a meaty flesh and a sweet caramel flavor. While not as large or as favored as the Medjool Date the Halawi Date is still considered a delicacy and because of its soft sweet flesh and high sugar content it is often served as a dessert at Moroccan meals.
Moroccan Date Festival
Every October in the Moroccan town of Erfoud a three-day festival celebrating the date is held. The date is the main livelihood for the people of Erfoud so it is no wonder that this festival focuses on the celebration of the date harvest and prayers for a successful harvest to come. Endless music, dancing, and of course eating dates spans the three day celebration where locals and tourists alike gather together under the swaying palm trees.
Dates play an extremely important part in Moroccan cuisine and are used in both sweet and savory meals. Below, find the recipes for a Beef tagine that features honey and dates and also a sweet recipe for stuffed dates, enjoy!
Moroccan Beef tagine with dates and honey
3 lbs beef, trimmed and cubed
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 lb of onion, peeled and quartered
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 lb of carrots, peeled and chopped
9 ounces of canned tomatoes
4 ounces of dates, pitted
6 ounces of prunes, pitted
2 tablespoons of honey
½ pint of beef stock
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons of cumin powder
2 teaspoons of cilantro powder
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 ounces of toasted sliced almonds
2 ounces of fresh cilantro chopped
- Par-boil the carrots for 3-5 minutes, at the same time pre-heat your tagine or croc pot.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion until they have browned slightly then put them into the tagine.
- Add all of the remaining ingredients, except for the almonds and fresh cilantro, into the tagine and mix well.
- Put the beef into a pan and sear them until brown, add beef to the tagine.
- Cook the tagine in a hot oven for 6-10 hours or, if using a croc pot, cook on high setting for same amount of time.
- Serve over couscous and sprinkle with sliced almonds and fresh cilantro.
375 grams of dates, pitted
1 cup of peeled ground almonds
1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar
1 egg white
Mix the ground almonds, sugar and egg white together. Put this mixture in a skillet and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes sticky. Add 1 tsp water and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the flame and let cool for several minutes. With this mixture stuff the dates and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Serve while the filling is hot or at room temperature.