Ramadan takes its name from the Arabic “al-ramad” (intense heat). The 30-day holiday, which lasts until Aug. 17 this year, involves hot days of prayer and fasting. When the first meal of the day is after sundown, you want something to support a hungry body. Traditionally, breaking the fast starts with olives and dates. Long before there were power bars and sports drinks, these two desert fruits have offered nutrition that goes down quick and easy.
Though they have no fruity sweetness, olives are, botanically speaking, fruit. Like avocados, another fruit, they’re rich in luscious fats. Olives, part of man’s diet for five thousand years or more, are the source of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory olive oil, after all, and offer a laundry list of antioxidants too .
Whether green (immature) or ripe (black), off the tree, olives taste sharp, bitter. To become the happy-making staple of antipasti, salads and Ramadan tables, they’re cured in brine. This makes them edible, but also high in sodium.
Pearls’ reduced salt olives ($1.79, 6-ounce can of ripe olives, $1.99, 6-ounce jar of pimiento-stuffed green olives) somehow takes out much of the salt but keeps the satisfying briny flavor and silky oliveness. In addition, the company grows its olives sustainably. Available at Target, Pearls are proof sometimes that old ways can be improved upon.
Sometimes, though, old ways need no improvement. Dates, among the oldest cultivated fruit, trace origins back to 4,000 B.C., well before the packaged gummy bits most people know. Those are technically dates, but they’re of lesser varieties that have been preserved and processed. They are not Medjools ($6.99, 16 ounces), the largest and sweetest of the dates.
Medjools, naturally soft, moist and succulent, need no processing. These dried delights taste like caramel and are high in potassium, iron and other essential minerals. They’re sugary but low-glycemic, rich in fiber and easy to metabolize, just as olives are. Medjools are a sweet way to break the fast at the end of a day or as a treat anytime. They’re available at Fresh Market and other stores.
Olives and dates have thrived for ages in hot, harsh conditions. They can help us thrive, too.