Hais (fruit and nut cabobs)
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
copyright Julia May 2010
Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take a ratl of this, and three quarters of a ratl of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with three uqiya of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine two uqiya of sesame-oil, and pour over, working with the hand until it is mixed in. Make into cabobs, and dust with fine-ground sugar. If desired, instead of sesame-oil use butter. This is excellent for travelers.
--al-Baghdadi, A Baghdad Cookery Book (1226 A.D./623 A.H.), A.J. Arberry, tr., Islamic Culture 1939.
I made this recipe a number of years ago for a showcase. I made notes more than redactions at that time, so I’ll expand on things. When reading this recipe the first thing that stands out is the measurements. They’re not what we expect, and it really alters how we read a recipe. So I did some digging and found these conversion notes:
1 ratl = 1 lb = 1 pint; 12 uqiya = 1 ratl; 10 dirham = 1 uqiya; 6 danaq = 1 dirham (information from Arberry's introduction to his translation of al-Baghdadi).
I made my own chart based on this information, noting that the recipe only calls for amounts of “uqiya” and “ratl”, which is 12:1. I then replaced quantities with something I was familiar with.
12 parts= 1 c
9 parts= ¾ c
3 parts= ¼ c
2 parts= 3 T
Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take [12 parts] of this, and [9 parts] of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with [3 parts] of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine [2 parts] of sesame-oil, and pour over, working with the hand until it is mixed in. Make into cabobs, and dust with fine-ground sugar.
Now that it’s easier to read, here are then things that stand out. Biscuits have more fat than bread. Fresh and preserved dates would have different liquid contents (though I’ve never seen a fresh date in Minnesota). Butter is solid at room temperature, while sesame oil is not. Note that in this cookbook “cabob” is a shape.
2 c bread crumbs
1 1/2 c dried dates
½ c almonds
½ c pistachios
6 T butter or plain sesame oil (not toasted)
Mincing dates is a pain, but the finer the better with this recipe. My little food processor was employed for the nuts to make them finer than store-bought. It’s important to note the difference between Asian toasted sesame oil and Mediterranean sesame oil. Not only are they night and day in color, but also in flavor. It is not an acceptable substitution.
No matter what I did these little guys were not “good for traveling”. They were tasty, but very crumbly. I would suggest starting with biscuits if doing this again to see if the extra fat helps make them firm up without getting greasy. I would also spend some time in the Mediterranean groceries asking about dates to find out which are stickier than others.