Living in a foreign country often involves picking up certain new habits and customs, nestling them into your daily life. Upon moving to Morocco, the first word I learned in Arabic was Salaam aalikoum.
However, it was not until a couple months later that my more attuned ears started to notice that whenever anyone enters a shop, a home, a new room or even a taxi, it is customary to greet and say salaam aalikoum to everyone in the space, perhaps even as a greeting to the space itself. I began to actively remind myself to do the same while living here. I offered chipper greetings to everyone in the corner store downstairs when I went to buy eggs and flour, said it as a relieved sigh when sliding into a taxi after a long day on my feet at work. I would even practice the habit even in my own home, mumbling salaam to my couch as I shut the door behind me.
Now, this habit is engrained in me. I honestly feel bizarre entering through any open door without acknowledgment or greeting, and when I reflect on this, it is such a gift that Morocco has given me.
I didn’t consciously realize how strong this habit was until walking into a dance studio in London to take a masterclass a couple months ago. I always have a few butterflies before taking a new dance workshop- nerves about who else will be there, how hard the material will be, and whether I will be able to keep up. As I walked into the big, sunlit studio in London I found four young women, stretching their shins and hips while lounging on the floor by the edge of the wall. There was a beat as I entered- a pause where the girls and I stopped and looked at each other. In that split second I realized I could choose not to say anything and just sidle into the room as a silent participant, and perhaps when I was younger and much more shy that is what I would have done. However, recognizing immediately that if I didn’t say anything, the girls probably wouldn’t either, my habit kicked in. I smiled and offered a warm good morning to them and then proceeded to find a spot for my things and begin my own stretches. The tension of the first day relaxed and I felt as if I had opened the space for myself, preparing it for even more light and friendliness and moments to smile at each other.
This is what the small act of saying hello in a new space can do- not only does it assert your active presence and willingness to interact, but it has the power to soften and gently open the edges of the space and the people within it. You do not have to leave being best friends with everyone in the room or the taxi or wherever you are, but there is the new possibility of connection. Of exchanged friendly words. A vocal hand has been offered and I have found that most people tend to take it. Every time we step into a new place, we have a choice. Do I stay in my own bubble, simply running in and out of this shop/house/studio as if I was never there? Or do I choose to invite warmth and offer some light in the form of the simplest offering there is?
The word doesn’t really matter- it is the act of saying anything at all.
While my habit of salaam-ing everywhere I go applies mostly to physical spaces, why can’t we apply the same principle to this world of the internet that we have created? A warm, genuine greeting can go a long way even when you are not face to face with someone. It is still an opening- an invitation into your corner of the virtual world.
Sometimes we have opportunities to bring these corners together in one, strong, like-minded community and that is something I am so happy to be doing with this recipe today- I am bringing it to a Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace, hosted by the lovely Saghar of the blog Lab Noon. The idea is that in these tumultuous times we are living in, there are still people from all parts of the world who believe in something more compassionate, more connected and more peaceful. We have the power to express and act on this belief, and while a virtual picnic may not seem like a huge change-maker in the grand scheme of things, every positive, hopeful, coming-together of people counts. So here we are, coming together in a gathering of international midsummer food.
Because it is still Ramadan and I also wanted to bring a Moroccan component to the party, these cookies were quite literally the first thing that jumped to mind. Dates, during Ramadan, are offered as an opening- an opening to break the fast. The prophet was said to have always broken his own periods of fasting with nothing but dates and water, and as a tradition and homage, muslims from all over do the same. There is something magical in imagining that millions of people are all eating the same food at the same time in different parts of the world.
Almost every Moroccan patisserie is brimming with different kinds of Halwa (cookies/sweets), but I have always gone straight for the date-filled morsels. They are not too sticky sweet and they are buttery + crumbly on the outside, rich + spiced on the inside. When I got the (very loose) recipe from my sister-in-law, I was amazed that with all of that flavor, these treats only involve 7-8 ingredients and are not that difficult to come together. M and I, being indecisive sometimes, chose to make two different shapes out of the shortbread-like dough. I have seen each one in different traditional bakeries here, so it completely depends on your personal preference: scarob-like logs or fig-newton-style slices. Both are quite simple to make and beautiful once fresh out of the oven with a sprinkling of snowy powdered sugar.
I would like to offer this Halwa as a warm hello, an opening, a connection.
For more sweet and delicious offerings, see what everyone else is bringing to this beautiful Midsummer Potluck through the list of links below the recipe.
Halwa d’Tmar (Moroccan Date-Stuffed Cookies)
Makes about 4 dozen small cookies
- 250g dates
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground clove
- 1/2 tsp orange blossom water (optional, but delicious)
- 250g (1 cup) butter, softened
- 150g (1 cup) powdered sugar
- 375g (2 1/2 cups) flour
- pinch of salt
In order to prepare the date filling, remove the pits and place all of the dates in a steamer. Let them steam for about 15-20 minutes or until completely soft.
Start your dough in the meantime. Using an electric mixer, whisk together the butter, powdered sugar and salt in a large bowl until fluffy. Add about 1/3 of the flour and continue to mix. Add another 1/3 and this time, set aside the mixer and begin to use your hands to work the dough. Once it is fully combined, add the remaining flour and keep working the dough with your hands, kneading and mixing it in the bowl. Continue this for about 5 minutes to allow the butter to soften even more, or until you have a smooth cookie dough. It should be about the texture of play-doh (although perhaps a bit butterier). If it seems quite sticky, add more flour 1 tbsp at a time. If it is cracking and not coming together, work in more softened butter with your fingertips, also 1 tbsp at a time. Form the dough into a smooth ball and set aside while you finish up making the filling.
Once the dates are softened, drain of any excess steaming water and place them in a food processor with the spices and orange blossom water. Blend.
Preheat your oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. To assemble the cookies, there are two options:
Fig-newton style- Take a palm-sized piece of dough and roll into a ball. On a floured work space, roll it out with a rolling pin into a long, thin (but not too thin) vertical strip. Take about 2-3 tbsp of date filling and with floured hands, roll into a log and place it on the vertical edge of the dough. Carefully roll over the filling, making sure it doesn't stick, until you have a long smooth log. Cut with a sharp knife on a diagonal edge into 1.5" cookies. Repeat with remaining dough.
Hand-pressed scarob shaped- Roll about 2 tbsp of dough into a ball in your hands, then press it into a flat, round disc. Take a small spoonful of filling and form it into a tiny log, placing it in the center of the disc. Fold the edges on each side and pinch the ends closed, forming a sort-of crescent oval. Smooth out the top, then decorate with whatever pattern you like, using a butter knife and being careful not to cut through to the filling. Repeat.
Once all of the dough and filling have been used, place cookies on the baking sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. You don't want them to turn too brown because then the dough may be hard. Bake just until the tops are dry to the touch- they may still feel too soft, but they harden as they cool. Let them cool for about 10 minutes before eating + sharing the love.
See what everyone else brought to the #VirtualMidsummerPotluck4Peace!
A huge thank you Saghar for organizing this beautiful potluck, bringing together so many amazing and talented bloggers from all over. You can check out her post to read more about it and see the refreshing Persian summer drink she is bringing to the table. Also, check out the hashtag #virtualmidsummerpotluck4peace on social media to follow along. Here are everyone else's delicious contributions:
Adventures in Cooking: Strawberry rhubarb pie ice cream sandwiches
An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Spiced Green Beans with Olive Oil and Tomato
Brewing Happiness: Healthy Southern Baked Beans
Cloudy Kitchen: Earl Grey blueberry pie
Cook Til Delicious: Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles
Delicious Not Gorgeous: No Mai Fan
DisplacedHousewife: Strawberry Scone-Cakes With Fresh Orange Blossom Whipped Cream
Donuts, dresses and dirt: Tahini Pavlovas
Floating Kitchen: Blistered Green Beans with Apricots and Chive Blossoms
Ginger & Toasted Sesame: Walnut Bread with Boursin and Prosciutto
Harvest and Honey: Chasing Summer (drink)
Hortus Cuisine: Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula
On The Plate: Sriracha Scotch Eggs
Tasty Seasons: Grilled Mojito Chicken
Tending the Table: Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts, Parsley and Currants
TermiNatetor Kitchen: Strawberry Shortcakes with Gluten-Free Yogurt Biscuits & Mint Whipped Cream
The Little Epicurean: Halo-Halo (Filipino Shave Ice Dessert)
This Mess Is Ours: Simple Tomato & Avocado Salad
Twigg studios: roasted beet leek and feta quiche
Vermilion Roots: Tofu Salad with Spiced Peanut Sauce
Wood and Spoon: Strawberry Almond Skillet Cake
Happy midsummer, all!