"If you can’t find mulberry pekmez, use date syrup instead."
I put that quote at the top of this post, because it illustrates, possibly the worst side of Yotam Ottolenghi. I spent an hour or so this morning attempting to find date syrup for this gorgeous looking dip - Three-cheese dip with spiced date syrup and pine nuts for tomorrow. I could not find it anywhere. I'll continue looking tomorrow but without a lot of hope, as this morning I was at a large shopping mall, where there were theoretically more options. We shall see.
So 'use date syrup instead' felt somewhat otherworldly, even pretentious to me. Dare I say that? And what it was substituting for was completely unheard of. 'Pekmez'! What on earth is that?
OK - I looked it up. It's another syrup, this time derived from condensing fruit must - most usually from grapes according to Wikipedia.
Now when I was searching for substitutes for date syrup I found lots of recipes for making your own, even one comment on Food52 which suggested that we 'smashed up date or two (without the pit)'. The recipes for making your own seemed pretty simple, so maybe I will have a go one day, but in the meantime, I shall look again tomorrow and then just give up. But there's no way I shall be able to make pekmez - where do you get fruit must? I suppose a visit to a local winery might produce some.
Should I be peeved at Mr. Ottolenghi for coming up with all these weird ingredients, or should I applaud him for bringing them to our attention? After all if all those pioneers didn't go on about things like garlic and olive oil, all those years ago, they would not be second nature in our shops. Nor a new industry in Australia.
Not that Ottolenghi is alone on the date syrup front. There are several Guardian cooks who use it here and there, so maybe it's more available in Britain. Jamie and Nigella don't seem to go for it though, even though they obviously love dates. I do have a vague memory of once seeing it in a supermarket, and some of the more upmarket ones may well have it, but we don't have one here. All we have is a deli - and I shall try it - but they never seem to have anything that you can't get in Coles next door. It's been there for years, and honestly I have no idea how it survives. Surely you would try to do something different to one of our major two supermarkets.
Internet to the rescue however. Type in, 'what is a date syrup substitute?' and you will get heaps of suggestions. The most common of these were honey, maple syrup and agave syrup - which, to me somewhat surprisingly, you can get in the supermarket. Somebody suggested adding a bit of pomegranate molasses to maple syrup, so I might try that.
And as this is a brief post - I don't have much time - here are just a few of the very tempting looking things you can do with date syrup - if you can find it. If you live in Brunswick in Melbourne you might be lucky. Lots of Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean food stores there. Here we are more likely to find Chinese or Indian stuff - Japanese and Korean too. Or substitute pezmez.
So this is what I'm offering - two from Ottolenghi - and he has heaps more - Sesame, date and banana cake; and Date and oat soda bread with salted date butter - I think I particularly fancy this; then Nigel Slater offers Roast pumpkin with couscous and date syrup and the writer of the Cherry Bombe website gives us more pumpkin from Yasmin Khan this time - Candied Pumpkin With Tahini And Date Syrup.
Date syrup apparently goes especially well with tahini, and can be used in glazes as well.
And there's a new cookbook coming from Yotam Ottolenghi, if you are a fan. It's called Comfort and is written with Helen Goh, Verena Lochmuller and Tara Wigley:
"a celebration of food and home, the connections we make as we cook, and the dishes we pass on from generation to generation."