Cookie Kitchen

Date & Cardamom Spiral Cookies (Kleicha)

May 19, 2023
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Kleicha (various spellings) is ubiquitous at religious holidays and special occasions in the Middle East. There are many variations of recipes for the pretty roll-ups of crispy yeasted dough around a smooth date filling. But the cookies always include dates, cardamom, and sometimes nigella (often labeled Black Seed or Kalonji in Middle Eastern grocery stores.)  I love the savory pop of nigella seeds, so included them here. And while some kleicha recipes start with date paste, using pitted dates cooked to jammy consistency yields best flavor.

But which dates to choose?

At the recent TuttoFood exposition in Milan, Italy, I was delighted to find that dates were the featured ingredient in the expos creative cooking competition. Talking to representatives from  Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Palms & Dates I learned that while the Kingdom has 34 million date palms, producing more than 300 varieties of dates (!), we here in America are likely to see only a few. Two varieties I found in Chicago included the dark, round Ajwa dates, which are firm with a chocolatey, caramelly flavor, and Sukkary—sometimes called “Royal Dates” which are soft and sweet, with a honeyed flavor and golden brown color. The Sukkary variety (available refrigerated at the Pita Inn grocery in Skokie/Evanston) are delicious in this recipe. But any good-quality soft dates will do.

To make the cookies, you’ll mix the dough first. While it rises, you’ll pit and then warm the dates with cardamom and a little oil, mashing and/or kneading the mixture into a smooth paste. Rolling out and rolling up come next. To simplify this, I spread my work area with cling wrap, spreading more wrap over the surface of first the date paste and then the dough before rolling each out into thin 9-inch x 12-inch rectangles.

You’ll then remove the top sheet of plastic, flip the date paste sheet over the dough sheet and roll the stack jelly-roll style to make a log. All that remains from here is to slice each roll into ¾-inch slices, bake and serve.

With only 3 tsp of sugar in the dough, and none added to the filling, the sweetness of the cookies is all fruit! That makes kleicha nutrition- and fiber-packed little nuggets. They keep well, and taste especially good with a cup of strong black tea.








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