Crisp, unripe fresh dates, still clinging to their fronds in golden yellow cascades signal a seasonal shift. Crispy, sweet and sometimes pleasantly (or unpleasantly) astringent, these yellow khalal stage (full-sized and crunchy but not ripe) dates are only around for a month before they head into their rutab stage, when they become butter soft and caramel sweet.
Usually, the khalal dates available for purchase are Barhis, which are known for their intense sweetness and super soft texture when ripe. Bautista is offering the only slightly larger Halawi dates in khalal stage this year, still clinging to thin yellow stems, sometime off the edge of their market tent. The Barhis get a lot of love from the locals, but the Halawi deserve just as much attention for the same reasons. When ripe, they become silky and spreadable with a sweetness that demands a counterpoint, like salty cheese or bitter nuts. In khalal, the Halawi is crisp like an apple and lightly sweet.
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Khalal dates do have a slight astringency to them, like that of an unripe persimmon. To avoid this, pick yellow dates that have a sign of early ripening: a small freckle of amber translucency that is soft to the touch.
These yellow dates will ripen slowly over the course of the month, allowing you to try them at various stages of the process. Alvaro Bautista, son of the ranch owner, prefers them raw and crisp but says he knows people use them in their cooking.
"Not for me. I really like the crunch."
So do we. They also hold up well in a long braise, adding a slight fruity sweetness to all those heavy, rich flavors.