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Orange and date fruit salad with loads of options

May 31, 2018

Date and orange fruit salad on a plate

‘It’s never too late, To succumb to a date that’s plump as a camel’s hump, And far sweeter than an old Potater.’ – Anonymous

My favourite place to eat out is at a friend’s house, and I love having people over to my place. While treating everyone to a sumptuous pudding is always something that goes down well, I’ve noticed more people are watching what they eat and fruit salads are a common dessert. This fits in with more quick-to-prepare, casual dining too.

An orange and date salad is a classic often attributed to Morocco. At its simplest there are segmented oranges with their juice, dates, a scatter of slivered almonds and a drop of orange blossom water  perhaps with a suspicion of cinnamon dusted over the top. The effort is in segmenting the oranges which I always feel is something I can dedicate to my friends – definitely a small labour of love.

Practise makes perfect and I remember honing my skills when my girls were very small and we lived in Jeddah. After a gang of toddlers came round to play, they’d all sit up at the table and watch as I carved the peel away and prised the pieces from their membranes. The juicy slivers were seized by tiny fingers and slipped down so easily that they ate them faster than I could cut them up. I’m a great believer that sugary or unhealthy food shouldn’t be idolised as treats, and this is a way of getting more fruit into little people (or anyone really).

Date and orange fruit salad, yoghurt in a bowl, dates and some cutlery

How to segment oranges (or any citrus fruit)

  1. First sharpen your knife – this is essential – and use a medium-sized cook’s knife. If you get on well with small knives you can try this, but I don’t.
  2. Cut a thin slice of peel from the top and bottom of the orange so you just expose the flesh. Sit it on a chopping board and cut the peel away from top to bottom in medium-sized strips, using even downward strokes, following the curve of the fruit. You need to cut through the peel, the white pith and just take the very first thin skin of the orange flesh. Rotate the orange as you cut round from the top to the base.
  3. Check the orange for any last bits of pith and nick them away with the knife. Discard the peel and pith.
  4. Then you have two options: either put the orange on its side and cut into round slices, or cut into segments.
  5. For the latter, hold the orange in the palm of your hand over a bowl. Very carefully slide your knife down the left edge of the first segment (with it facing upwards towards you) so the flesh is separated from the membrane. Repeat with the right hand side and the segment should come away. Tease it out with the tip of the knife and into the bowl (which is there to catch any juice). Turn the orange and repeat with all the segments – make sure you keep your fingers well out of the way.
  6. Once you are left with just the skeleton of the orange, give it a squeeze to extract any remaining juice. There’s a video demo at the bottom of this post.

Date and orange fruit salad, some dates and some cutlery

Which oranges to use

Navel or larger oranges are easier to segment but you can use any orange you like. A mix of oranges such as tangerines, mandarins or blood oranges makes for an interesting salad.

Choice of dates

You want sticky, toffee-like, soft pieces of date so Medjool are idea here. If you are lucky to get any dates at the rutab stage of ripeness, simply remove the stone, they’ll add a luxurious touch.  If your dates are very dry try soaking them overnight in some orange juice. Cutting into slivers is the usual option but you can leave in half or chop them finely (scissors can be easier for this).

Types of dressing

My favourite, and the easiest option, is to use the orange juice you’ve released from the fruit when cutting it. Adding a splash of orange blossom (flower) water is a Moroccan twist or you could use rosewater. Fresh passion fruit juice or pomegranate juice mixed with the orange juice, or alone, would complement the flavours. Lime juice would perk it up a lot but you’d definitely need to add sweetness. A little Grand Marnier or triple sec like Cointreau takes this up a notch for a dinner gathering. Another option is to make a flavoured sugar syrup…

Date and orange fruit salad on a plate with segments scattered around

How to sweeten

This depends on personal taste and how healthy you want your fruit salad to be. You may not want to sweeten this at all depending on the oranges you use. You can always up the quantity of dates for extra natural sweetness.  My favourite addition is a drizzle of raw honey. A small amount of sieved icing sugar stirred into the juice is a quick and simple option. Maple syrup would also work well.

Harking back to an earlier time, sugar syrup was always used in fruit salads. A little goes a long way so you are not consuming a vast amount per portion but it is processed sugar.

To make sugar syrup: combine a quarter of the amount of sugar to liquid – for example, 50g caster sugar to 200ml of water. For a thicker syrup use more sugar to the same amount of water. Put into a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and bubble until the mixture starts to thicken (2-4 minutes).

Sugar syrup flavouring options: use half fresh orange juice (or juice of your choice) and half water. Add fresh rosemary sprigs, knob of fresh ginger (peeled), fennel pods, a vanilla pod or a cinnamon stick before heating. Leave the herbs or spices to steep in the syrup until cool and ready to use, then remove. Orange or lemon zest can be added to the liquid at the start too (and left in the syrup).

Epicurious has a short cut by using marmalade: Gently heat 4 tablespoons of marmalade over low heat for about 3 minutes, or until syrupy then stir in any reserved orange juice plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Off the heat, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water for a pouring consistency and let cool.

Herbs and spices

The Moroccan style recipe uses fresh mint and a little cinnamon. A few lightly crushed, green fennel pods would perfume the juice wonderfully as would a few crushed coriander seeds. I had some really aromatic, fresh rosemary in the fridge and it was gorgeous. Steep in the orange juice overnight to impart the woody, pine-like taste or scatter a few leaves, either whole or chopped over the salad (a little goes a long way here).

Steeping a knob of fresh ginger in the juice overnight would be fab. For a different spin you could drizzle with honey (see above) and scatter a few crushed chilli flakes on top. I haven’t tried thyme or juniper, but both might work well in moderation.

A bowl of dates, some rose buds and yoghurt with a honey drizzler

Toppings

Slivered or sliced almonds seem to be the usual choice for the Moroccan version but you could use a variety of nuts. I used chopped pistachios and they were excellent; crushed hazelnuts would be good too.  You can toast nuts lightly in a dry frying pan or on a tray in the oven, or just use raw. I also saw a suggestion for candied nuts: coat nuts in a mixture of coconut oil, agave nectar (honey or maple syrup) and cinnamon, and bake them until toasted.

Mint leaves look pretty and add a beautiful flavour, but so does rosemary (see above). Pomegranate seeds add crunch and juiciness.

An addition often found in the Middle East are dried rose buds or petals. They also give a beautiful scent.

Of course chocolate always goes brilliantly with orange – chop dark chocolate into shards and scatter. Toasted coconut pieces are another nice topping.

Additions and variations

In her recipe for Middle Eastern winter fruit salad, Tamasin Day-Lewis soaks dried apricots in orange juice overnight then simmers them in the liquid in a covered pan until tended before combining with segmented oranges, dates, pomegranate juice and a few seeds, fresh passion fruit juice and some finely sliced, blanched, pithless lemon and orange peel.

Fresh seasonal fruit could also be a delicious addition; try quartered figs, sliced peaches, mango or honeydew melon cubes or even halved strawberries.

Savoury salad options

Google orange and date salad and you’ll find the savoury version is most prevalent. One of the first my first cookbooks (by Arabella Boxer) suggested the classic combination of orange and watercress which is delicious.  You could also use baby spinach or general small, slightly bitter salad leaves (iceberg or larger leaves is a no-no here). I think the popularity online stemmed from Ottolenghi’s recipe in Plenty More where he adds garlic, cinnamon, fennel seeds and lettuce to the basic ingredients. Martha Stewart adds feta and chilli which sounds worth a try. The Moroccan variation is to add carrots.

Serve with…

The salad is absolutely fine on its own but Greek yoghurt or goats yoghurt (or curd) drizzled with raw honey – and good for dessert or breakfast.  Or try labneh which is easily available here in the Middle East. Serving with real Devon or Cornish clotted cream would be a luxurious touch. This fruit salad is a good accompaniment to moist cakes traditional in the Middle East made of almonds, pistachios or tahini.

Orange and date fruit salad

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A fresh, light, simple to make, Middle Eastern-inspired salad which is good for dessert or even breakfast.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 oranges (depending on size)
  • sprig of fresh rosemary (or use fresh mint as a garnish)
  • raw honey for drizzling (optional)
  • 10 Medjool dates (see above)
  • seeds from fresh pomegranate (a handful or so)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of pistachios, sliced

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of the orange. Slice down and around the fruit removing the skin and pith. Slice into rounds or segment pieces from the membrane (see details instructions above). Catch any juice in a bowl.
  2. Pick about 7-10 rosemary leaves from the stem and stir into the orange juice. Leave to steep (overnight if possible). Reserve a few leaves for garnishing.
  3. Remove the stones (pits) from the dates and cut into slivers (or snip into smaller pieces with scissors (see above).
  4. Put the orange segments onto a serving dish or bowl. Remove the rosemary leaves from the juice and pour over.  Chill lightly until ready to serve.
  5. Drizzle with a little raw honey. Scatter the dates, pomegranate seeds, pistachios and a few reserved rosemary leaves over the salad (or the fresh mint leaves).

Orange and date salad with a bowl of yoghurt and some cutlery

Pin for later

Not segmented oranges before and fancy trying it? Use the instructions above and

this video:

If you make this recipe I’d love to see it – tag mycustardpie on Instagram

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2018 5:31 pm

    Hiii! This was a great read. Check out my blog lets keep connected 🙂

    • June 1, 2018 1:36 pm

      Thanks so much – what makes the orange and date salad truly Moroccan? Do you know?

  2. dannii2013 permalink
    June 1, 2018 12:23 pm

    That looks like a beautiful and light summer salad. I love anything with dates.

    • June 1, 2018 1:36 pm

      Let’s hope it’s a lovely hot summer in the UK so there’s an excuse to make it eh.

  3. June 1, 2018 12:33 pm

    This is such a beautiful summer dessert, love all the options!

    • June 1, 2018 1:37 pm

      Thanks Amy – there are so many variations, it was fun researching and thinking of them all.

  4. Katie Webster permalink
    June 1, 2018 4:13 pm

    I love that this is simply a jumping off point for so many creative ways to make this salad. Personally I like to use a little serrated knife for supreme oranges. It came in my knife set, and I think it is technically a tomato knife. Thanks so much for the healthy dessert! Yum!

  5. June 1, 2018 4:29 pm

    I’ve never tried this combo but I love fruit salads, oranges and dates so I’m bound to enjoy it 🙂 Love your overhead shots Sally, they’re beautiful!

  6. colleen kennedy permalink
    June 1, 2018 5:11 pm

    Mmmm, simple yet sophisticated. I’ll take two bowls please!

  7. June 3, 2018 5:05 pm

    You are definitely rocking the date thing. Keep ’em coming.

  8. June 6, 2018 10:41 pm

    I enjoyed this post for all the suggestions of what can be added or changed to make the fruit salad a little different. I know I would enjoy as you have made it as well as your other ideas.

    • June 7, 2018 7:13 am

      We all need options don’t we Karen. I never think there is just one ultimate recipe for anything.

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