Dates--love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’re probably sure you know what they’re like: light or dark tan and very sweet, with a musky dried-fruit flavor.
But dates are also eaten fresh in the regions where they’re grown (some Los Angeles supermarkets are carrying them). They’re not long and wizened but roundish, and the color may be yellow or red, rather than brown. They aren’t as sweet as dried dates, and the flavor is vastly different, closer to a fibrous, slightly astringent apple. Altogether, they’re so different from dried dates that the Arabs, who know this subject intimately, have two words for date: ti^n for the dried and balah for the fresh kind.
Fresh or dried, dates are a very rich food, containing vitamins, minerals and fiber as well as carbohydrates. You can live for months on end eating nothing else and your health won’t suffer too much. In fact oasis-dwellers have traditionally done exactly that, stretching the dates out with dairy products.
Of course, it may get a little monotonous. Among the dishes eaten in Arabia 1,500 years ago were lu^qa (fresh dates with butter), ‘asi^da (dry dates stewed with butter), maji^' (whole dates with milk), wati^'a (pitted dates kneaded with milk), waji^'a (mashed dates moistened with milk), siq’al (dry dates steeped in milk).