Olives, Dates and October Seasonal Produce in the Middle East

image-fresh-datesOctober offers a variety of short-season delicacies. Look for olives, dates, and beans.

Each month brings forward new fruit or vegetables to charm the eye and palate, while the previous month’s stars fade away. October’s specialties are plentiful, and good for locovores looking to make good on the harvest. Read below for the best of this month’s fruit, vegetables and herbs, with olive season and fresh dates being a highlight.

Fruit

Middle Eastern newcomers this month are kiwis, persimmons, and quinces. Fuzzy quinces usually get cooked into jam, but tuck a few peeled slices into a slow-cooking tajine or stew.

Raw olives for pickling are prime now, and their season is short, so if you’re in the mood to pickle your own olives, run to the shuk now.

Fresh yellow and red dates are sweet and good, but only if frozen for two days before eating. Before this simple processing, they are dry and astringent.

Bananas have moved into full season and firm, handsome bunches are in every market now. Choose some that are slightly green, and allow them to ripen for a day or three in your kitchen. It’s still warm enough to ripen all kinds of fruit indoors. I like to buy tomatoes in different stages of ripeness for that reason. By the time the ripe ones have been cooked or sliced into salads, the ones that were green have ripened.

Same with pineapples, which are still (and probably always will be) expensive, but somewhat less so at this time. Given pineapples’ high prices, it’s good to know how to choose a good one. Look for firm, yellow flesh all around and an attractive sweet odor at the base. Some green at the top is fine. Reject any that have mold on the stem end, a dried-up crown, or large brown spots.

Local apples and pears now compete with imported varieties in beauty and flavor. The darker varieties of plums are still with us. Table grapes of all shades and shapes are fine now. Look for pomegranates too, still plentiful now.

Citrus fruits are out, but wait for a wet week or two before buying. Until it’s rained at least once, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit won’t be sweet. Lemons are fine now.

Vegetables

Vegetables in full season are green and wax beans and all kinds of runner beans. Tomatoes, bell and hot peppers and cucumbers are still as abundant as in summer, probably because it’s still hot in the Middle East.  How about some shakshuka, eggs poached in sauce made from some of those tomatoes? And, it’s the last chance to try our vinegared cucumber salad before cool weather drives prices up.

Squat, grooved baladi eggplants are fine right now, and they make a wonderful baba ghanoush dip. Or try Green Prophet’s creamy eggplant soup. Fennel bulbs are worth buying now. Simply cut in half, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper then oven-roasted till tender, they are delicious.

Brassicas like October. Red and white cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli look firm and good, as compared to their breathless, fast-wilting brethren of mid-summer.

So with the alliums: leeks, puny a few weeks ago and now large; onions, shallots, pearl onions and fat yellow onions and the sweeter red onions, so good marinated in a little vinegar, sugar, and olive oil, then mixed into salad.

You can count on autumn vegetables to be firm and sweet in October: sweet potatoes, white and red potatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, all kinds of squashes. Root vegetables like celeriac, carrots, and parsley root continue fine and fat.

Herbs

Beloved to the Middle Eastern palate herbs do well in this interval between summer’s worst heat and rainy, cool winter. Mint, tarragon, basil, celery, coriander leaves, parsley, rocket, Swiss chard and dill are all in fragrant, leafy beauty.

Going out of season:

To buy now, soon out of season: melons, peaches, nectarines, figs, avocados.

Forager’s notes: hawthorn berries are ripe for picking now. Make hawthorn jam, wine, or a heart-strengthening medicinal tincture. Wild fennel is flowering along the wayside and is worth drying for flavoring grilled foods later. Sprinkle some dried wild fennel flowers over baking apples. Very good!

Green Prophet has lots of recipes for these succulent seasonal goodies:
Slow-roasted tomatoes recipe
Sweet potatoes roasted in date honey recipe
Eggplant with tahini-labneh sauce recipe
Photo of fresh dates in Abu Dhabi market by Jemasmith via Flickr. 

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