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Date and vanilla lassi

May 18, 2018
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glass of date lassi and plate of biscuits

Date and vanilla lassi

We had a box of dates, once a year at Christmas, when I was growing up. They came in a long, thin, lidded, cardboard case with rounded corners, and were arranged along the sides of a plastic stem which doubled-up as a two-pronged fork to save your fingers from stickiness. They were always from Tunisia; I’m not sure who ate them.

As I wander along the aisle of my local supermarket now, the date section is mind-bogglingly with choice; shelves laden with a huge array of different types, shapes, sizes, descriptions and prices. There are more than 1,500 varieties of dates worldwide, and about 42 million date palms in the U.A.E. I’m writing this as steamy dusk falls (it’s 32 C) and the first Iftar of Ramadan is about to begin. It’s impossible to imagine how people survived here, before air conditioning, with just the breezes caught by tall vents made of palm fronds, called wind towers, to cool them. Resources were precious with dates, camel milk and coffee at the heart of life.

It’s traditional for Muslims to break their fast by eating three dates, as the Prophet Muhammed did.  Dates are offered at communal Iftars, given as Ramadan gifts and as an ingredient of different pastries and sweets, which is why they abound on the supermarket shelves.

People who have grown up with dates (not just at Christmas) have a different attitude to them. They eat them at all stages of their growth: green and under-ripe, while still crunchy and fresh, ripened and juicy, and dried and sticky. Which country the best dates come from is hotly contested.

three glasses of date lassi on a trayI’ve had a big tub of dates from Saudi Arabia in my kitchen, left over from a photography session, and they’ve started to creep into my cooking and food preparation – not just as a mid-afternoon snack. It got me thinking of how many ways to use them and perhaps a series of date recipes. Can I do thirty days of dates? Let’s see. It would be a challenge, and I respond to a challenge. Are you up for it?

My first recipe is a simple one, a cooling lassi to temper the heat of food and climate. The alchemy of the ingredients is magic though – like smooth caramel, vanilla ice cream in a glass.

It’s based on the Punjabi style lassi without the addition of water. I’ve used a mixture of milk and yoghurt but also tried it with 100% laban (a drinking yoghurt that’s readily available here). You could use plant-based milk products as well.

The level of sweetness depends on you. Indian sweets are tooth-achingly so – and some lassi recipes call for an amount of sugar, honey or dates which is way too sickly for my tastes. If you are pouring over ice you can get away with it being a little sweeter though. You need a powerful blender to make it (I use a Vitamix). Pour a little boiling water over the dates and leave them to soften overnight if your machine is a little on the wimpish side.

Please don’t use vanilla essence or flavouring; the taste will put a synthetic dampener on the whole thing. You can make your own vanilla extract (it’s not sold in supermarkets here in Dubai due to the alcohol base). Local Dubai kitchenware shop Tavola sells a real version which is alcohol-free.

A pinch of sea salt wouldn’t go amiss here either, for a salted caramel vibe.

Date and vanilla lassi

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A cooling drink with a deep, caramel flavour. It's more of a dessert-style drink than a regular smoothie. Frothy, creamy and good served over lots of ice.

You’ll need a high-powered blender to whizz it smoothly.

Ingredients

  • 250ml Greek yoghurt (or plant-based alternative)
  • 250ml milk (use full-fat regular milk or another of your choice e.g. almond milk)
  • 7-10 dates (depending on how sweet the dates are and your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract (or seeds from a vanilla pod)
  • Generous pinch of sea salt (optional)

Directions

  1. Measure the yoghurt and milk (or 500ml laban) into your blender.
  2. Remove the stones from the dates. This is easy (if sticky) to do with your hands – just pull the dates apart to reveal the stone, pick it out and discard.  Put the dates into the blender (it’s important that the liquid goes in first for machines like a Vitamix).
  3. Add the vanilla extract (or seeds) and salt if using.
  4. Blend really well until the lassi is really smooth and frothy.
  5. Pour into 2 or 3 glasses over lots of ice. Drink immediately.

Three glasses of frothy date and vanilla lassi

Pin this image for later

I used a very low aperture (blurry backgrounds) on these images and a Kim Klassen preset which is quite desaturated and moody. I really like the look but interested to know what you think.

Are you with me for the date marathon? Is a whole month (during Ramadan) of daily posts possible (or even desirable?!). Do you remember the date boxes (do they still exist?).

18 Comments
  1. May 18, 2018 10:28 am

    This is a very interesting lassi Sally…we usually make sweet or salted ones and ye some times add mangoes or strawberries…love the combination of dates in a lassi..

    • May 23, 2018 7:03 pm

      With dates it’s a sweet lassi without having to add processed sugars. It’s a lovely flavour and that’s coming from someone without a sweet tooth. I love a mango lassi too. What’s your favourite?

      • May 24, 2018 9:05 am

        Just simple lassi made with fresh yogurt and a dash of sugar is perfect…yes mangoes etc do add that special flavour:))

  2. May 18, 2018 10:38 am

    Hello Sally
    Yes I remember those dates, we had only Tunisian dates and some kind of pressed brick of dates for baking.
    At time I did not like dates. I only felll in love when I get to eat fresh, soft and not yet sticky snd chewy dates. Here in Dubai we have wonderfull variety to choose. My favority is toffee like slightly chewy yet soft dates. I prefer to choose Emirati dates if possible.

    Lovely image I would like to see before and after image with the filter and withiut. Thank you fir sharing Kim Klassen … maybe someday I will try.

    Happy Ramadan !
    More date recipes please I might share few as well.

    • May 23, 2018 7:05 pm

      Thanks Minna – I feel I’m at the start of a long journey of education with dates from the UAE and beyond. So many different varieties – and yes they certainly knock the spots of the commercial ones elsewhere. I’ll think about a before and after post – when I’ve finished with the dates!

      • May 23, 2018 7:06 pm

        Oh and I’d love to see your date recipes

  3. May 18, 2018 12:56 pm

    I remember dates the same way – they were such a novelty back in 1980s melbourne. Even now you don’t get nearly the same range as in Dubai though… just one of the ingredients I miss.

    • May 23, 2018 7:06 pm

      I was going to say I’ll bring you some but the import restrictions are a no go.

  4. May 18, 2018 2:10 pm

    Sally, first, your pics and the filter you use are great. Actually, do you mind if I post one of these pics on our Instagram account – by tagging you of course? I’ve just followed you.

    I eat dates every morning for breakfast. My favs are the Khalas type. I have to bring a few boxes back to my parents in France when I visit them. Nothing to do with the hard Tunisian type.

    What if I wanted to make your date & vanilla lassi free from lactose? Can I use a banana instead of Greek yogurt and I’ll use camel milk (naturally salty and amazing in milkshakes by the way)?

    Did you know why it is said that we should eat 3 or 5 or 7 dates / day or any quantity that’s an odd number? Because Allah is One. It’s an odd number. 😉

    • May 23, 2018 7:08 pm

      I would definitely try this with camel milk Fred. Thanks for reposting. I mention the odd number of dates at an Iftar the other night but no one had heard this. You are right though the dates are always served in odd numbers.

  5. May 18, 2018 8:12 pm

    Such a delish recipe. Here in India, during summer we swear by sharbat (or sherbet) and lassi. Do try the mango lassi version. It’s so refreshing. 🙂

    • May 23, 2018 7:09 pm

      I adore mango lassi – the alphonso mangoes from India have just arrived in the supermarkets. Gorgeous

  6. May 19, 2018 4:33 am

    Hi Sally,
    Gosh I too share the memory of the oval shaped box of dates at Christmas they were quite dry too not like the beautiful fresh dates my dear friend in Hatta used to give us freshly picked from his trees. Or similar to the pitted dates that I buy here from our hypermarket Costco in Melbourne that is 1.5kg in weight and in a heavy duty plastic sealed bag. My dates have come all the way from Iran though packed in Australia by NaturesGrocer. I recently made a gorgeous Date, Banana and Walnut bread and it was/is gorgeous (I made two loafs). Enjoy the Holy month of Ramadan in Dubai — I really miss experiencing it in the Middle East.

    • May 23, 2018 7:09 pm

      That loaf sounds delicious. Iranian dates are gorgeous too aren’t they.

  7. May 20, 2018 6:05 am

    Great post Sally – love that you insist on ‘real’ vanilla essence and don’t add extra sugar – I can just imagine how refreshing this would be…

    • May 23, 2018 7:13 pm

      It’s one of my bugbears – I loathe synthetic flavourings from truffle oil (made in a lab – no hint of the real thing) to vanilla essence that tastes so fake and unsubtle. Rant over!

  8. May 24, 2018 12:36 pm

    I didn’t grow up with dates so they are rather new to me (past 30 years!). I have adopted them for use in baking (brownies!), carrot salads, smoothies and more. Love this simple lassi idea, although it sounds like dessert to me! Oh, and i like the preset. I have never got into Photoshop so these nifty shortcuts aren’t available to me, alas. 🙂

  9. June 1, 2018 10:24 am

    I can’t wait to try this out – I adore dates. And I’m loving all of your other date recipes too. Nice work, Sally!

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