Recipe for hays (Date balls)

Original (1) is from the anonymous Kanz al-fawāʾid fī tanwīʿ al-mawāʾid, as translated by Nawal Nasrallah, in Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table: A Fourteenth Century Egyptian Cookbook , recipe #343, p. 247.

Original (2) is from A Baghdad Cookery Book, the translation of the Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh by A.J. Arberry in Medieval Arab Cookery, p. 88

(1) Take dried fine bread or kaʿk (dry cookies), and finely pound it; for each raṭl (pound) of it, use ½ raṭl of ʿajwa (sweet and soft dried dates). Remove their stones, and mix and mash them with the pounded kaʿk [or bread].

Next, take finely chopped shelled walnuts, almonds, and pistachios, as well as toasted sesame seeds. Take one ūqiyya (one ounce) of each. Throw them into the date mixture.

Take sesame oil, and heat it on low heat, and then pour it over [the dates], mix and rub them by hand to combine [them into one mass]. Shape it into balls (kubab), sprinkle them with pounded sugar, and stash them away (yurfaʿ).

(2) Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up well. Take a raṭl of fresh or preserved dates with the stones removed, together with three ūqiyya of ground almonds and pistachios. Knead all together very well with the hands. Refine two ūqiyya 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 travellers.

Using this recipe for khubz al-abāzīr, twelve out of sixteen rolls gave me a pound of bread crumbs. I picked this recipe because I have worked with it before and really like the flavor. Since kaʿk are not always sweet (see recipes in Charles Perry's Scents and Flavors: a Syrian Cookbook), but are simply something shaped into a ring, it seemed reasonable to shape the rolls this way since it gave them a greater surface area which helped with turning it into crumbs (which I did with a grater).

Even using the maximum amount of dates suggested, they were insufficient for the mixture to hold together. The problem is not unique to myself—every interpretation I have seen substantially increases the proportion of dates to be used. This may be due to using dried dates rather than fresh, especially if it was assumed that the cook would rehydrate the dates after weighing but before using—there is a series of recipes in the Kanz al-fawāʾid for various methods of rehydrating dried dates to feign out-of-season fresh dates (recipes #725-728), so it is certainly a possibility.

Be sure to heat the sesame oil—the mixture holds together much better.

MODERN VERSION by Mathilde Eschenbach:

  1. Grind and mix nuts, dates and bread/cookie crumbs in food processor.
  2. Stir in toasted sesame seeds.
  3. Heat sesame oil.
  4. Add sesame oil to mix, and work everything together until well-combined.
  5. Form into small balls.
  6. Roll balls in sugar.

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