A man looks at a basket of fresh dates at the Liwa Date Festival, which coincides with Ramadan Image Credit: EPA

Three dates are eaten at the end of a day's fast during Ramadan. With 31g of carbohydrates each, they are nutritional powerhouses. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition reports that this superfood restores the body's sugar levels, provides fibre and come packed with selenium, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins.

Fresh dates are in the spotlight right now, with the holy month coinciding with the date-harvesting season and the Liwa Date Festival. Some of the finest locally grown fresh dates are available in supermarkets now, courtesy the Abu Dhabi Farmers' Services Centre.

Food.com suggests an Indonesian Rice and Date salad: mix half a cup of fresh dates with 3 cups of brown rice, 2 chopped green onions, 1 red pepper, one-fourth cup toasted sesame seeds and a stalk of chopped celery, and combine with a dressing made from three-fourth cup orange juice concentrate, 1/3 cup sunflower oil, 3 tbsp vinegar, the juice of 1 lemon, finely shredded ginger and garlic, salt and pepper.

One quick way to maximise the nutritional impact of dates is to stuff them with pecans (adding zinc, vitamin E and A, and folate), cashews (copper, phosphorous and iron) or walnuts (omega-3 compounds). Australian food writer Louise Fulton Keats suggests stuffing dates with a mix of Philadelphia cream cheese,
orange rinds and a few drops of orange juice for a tangy, zesty snack the kids will love.

The blog Emilietarianism offers a tasty Middle Eastern-inspired recipe for balsamic date hummus. In a food processor, blitz one-fourth cup of chickpeas with 1 tbsp of balsamic glaze, 4 dates, a splash each of honey and olive oil, and 1 tsp each of cumin, oregano and black pepper to desired smoothness. Drizzle with more balsamic and serve with crackers, chips or kuboos bread.

Because they are so sweet, dates are dessert staples and are rarely used in main courses — except in Moroccan tagines.

123recipes.com offers an entree idea: to feed six, season and stuff a large 2kg sea bass or snapper with one and a half cups of pitted dates and about 2 tbsp of butter. In a greased roasting tin, add 1 large finely chopped onion, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, half tsp ginger powder, salt and pepper to taste and half cup chicken broth or ginger ale. Place the fish on top, dot with butter and bake, covered with foil, in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Brown by baking uncovered for 15 minutes, basting regularly. Serve with pan juices and rice or chips.

Since dates are digested relatively slowly, compared to fried and fatty foods, they are ideal for the first meal before the fast, suhoor. Allrecipes.com suggests sweetening rice pudding with dates instead of sugar for a quick, satisfying start to the day. In a pan, cook two cups of coarsely mashed white rice, with 2 cups of milk, 3 tbsp of white sugar and 15 chopped dates. Stir regularly for about 20 minutes, until the dates are tender. Serve warm or cold.