Appetites: Sara Farhat's recipe for date anise bars embraces traditional Lebanese flavors and ingredients

After studying nutrition in college, Farhat has worked to adapt her favorite recipes from her time living in Lebanon to make them as healthy and wholesome as possible.

A photo of a cook near fresh ingredients in a kitchen.
Lebanese-American cook and nutritionist Sara Farhat spent more than three years adapting her favorite family recipes from her childhood in Lebanon to create her first cookbook that she self-published and released last month.
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This recipe combines two different Lebanese sweets with enough simplicity that any baker should feel comfortable tackling it, Farhat said. It was inspired by anise maakaroun — semolina fingers traditionally deep fried then soaked in syrup — and maamoul madd — decorative, stuffed cookies made with refined flour, semolina, sugar and butter.

The recipe was adapted from her uncle’s recipe for baked anise maakaroun but Farhat said she made several modifications to include only heart-healthy oil and whole ingredients.

Farhat’s recipe for date anise bars is also included in her cookbook “Homemade: Made Healthy & Whole — A Flavor of Lebanese Cooking and Other Healthy Recipes.” Farhat worked on the cookbook for more than three years and released the self-published project last month. She is hosting a book launch and signing on Nov. 13 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 18202 Minnetonka Blvd, Suite 100 in Wayzata. You can find out more about Sara and her recipes through her Instagram account homemade_healthyandwhole.

Listen to the full conversation with Farhat using the audio player above.

Date Anise Bars

A treat sits on a decorative plate with a tea pot and glasses.
The date anise bars combine two traditional Lebanese treats but Farhat said she spent time modifying both the ingredients and the cooking method to make the dessert healthier. She said the way the bars are layered inside the pan is an easier method for novice bakers to tackle.
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Recipe yields 48 slices


Ingredients

Crust Dough

4 cups whole wheat flour (520 g)

1/4 cup anise seeds (25 g)

1 tbsp baking powder

2 tsp mahlab

1/3 tsp salt

3/4 cup hot water

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup avocado oil

1/3 cup honey

Filling

37 large soft pitted medjool dates (705 g)

2 tbsp orange blossom water

Instructions

1) For the dough, start with sorting through the anise seeds and removing any impurities. Place in a small bowl, then add the water and stir to mix. Let sit to cool.

2) Measure out the flour, baking powder, mahlab, and salt into a bowl. Mix gently and set aside.

3) In a separate bowl, mix the oils and honey, then pour over the dry ingredients. Add the anise seeds with the water, then mix well until a uniform dough is formed. Knead the dough for a few minutes, then cover the bowl with a plate or towel and let rest for an hour.

4) For the date filling, place the dates and orange blossom water in a large food processor and blend, scraping down the sides as needed (no need to make the date paste super smooth; some small chunks of dates add a nice texture to the bars).

5) Grease a large sheet pan (recommended dimensions: 30 cm x 40 cm or similar) with some olive oil, then divide the dough in half.

6) Using a coarse cheese grater, grate one half of the dough onto the pan. Press down with one’s hands to flatten the surface and bind the grated dough together until the surface is even and the base of the pan is completely covered (this process takes some time and patience).

7) Drop the date paste onto the dough in small batches. Using one’s hands, spread the date paste over the dough, patting down well until the whole surface is covered.  

8) Preheat the oven to 325 °F.

9) Grate the remainder half of the dough over the date layer. Press down with one’s hands to flatten the surface and bind the grated dough together until the surface is even and the date paste is completely covered.

10) Score the top layer with a sharp knife to define the 48 slices.

11) Bake for 40 minutes (one can then broil the surface until light brown and crisp if desired).

12) Let cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

13) Store, covered, at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Notes 

  • Since the date paste is quite sticky, it is best to dip one’s hands in water or oil to help spread the paste over the dough layer.

  • If a smoother look to the baked crust is desired, one can, in steps 6 and 9, avoid using a cheese grater, and instead, flatten small patches of the dough between the hands and lay out onto the pan or over the filling. Join the patches and mold them together with one’s hands, patting down gently, until a uniform surface is formed. One can also use a small roller to smoothen out the look of the surface if desired.

Nutrition facts per slice

131 Kcal         5 g Fat           2.4 g Protein          21 g Carbs        3 g Fiber              12 g Sugar

Recipe Alternative: To make fig anise bars, make the following changes to the wet ingredients: substitute the dates with 850 g of fresh figs (no skin), omit the orange blossom water, and add 1 tbsp lemon juice. Mash up the figs, then cook in a saucepan, covered, on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Mix in an additional 2 teaspoons of anise seeds, then set aside to cool, before spreading out onto the first layer of dough. Continue with the rest of the steps just as above.

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