Al-Baghdadi wrote his hit medieval cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Dishes) in 1226 CE at the height of Abbasid sophistication and power. It included this recipe for hais or date sweetmeats.

The dish has a long and illustrious history; it was thought even the Prophet Muhammad enjoyed it. More importantly, this simple no-bake, one-bite dessert was said to “fortify the traveler” in the days when travels, especially the arduous journey to the Hajj, were often perilous. The original recipe says to “make into cabobs,” which I took to mean small balls, but you could roll into finger-shaped sweetmeats or spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and cut into squares. Any which way, they are yummy and energizing. 

Whiz the dates, almonds, pistachios and oil together in a food processor until ground and the mixture is resembling breadcrumbs. 

Tip into a large bowl and shape into balls roughly the size of a walnut (they don’t need to be the same size). If still crumbly, dab your palm with a little vegetable oil to help bind the mixture. Place the balls in the fridge to set. 

To finish, roll each ball in sesame seeds, coconut or pistachio slivers, if desired—the options are endless. 


Adapted and reprinted with permission from Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee: Date Desserts From Everywhere
Sarah al-Hamad.
Interlink Books, 2013.

Sarah al-Hamad
Sarah al-Hamad grew up in Kuwait and lives in London. She worked as an editor for Saqi Books and is the author of several cookbooks, including the award-winning Cardamom and Lime: Flavours from the Arabian Gulf. She recently completed her master’s degree in creative nonfiction at the University of East Anglia.