On a date with dates in Café Bateel

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Updated 21 January 2013

On a date with dates in Café Bateel

Bateel’s consistent care for excellence in quality date products is the key behind its success. These are sold in its specialized outlets all over the Kingdom and abroad. Bateel also serves mouthwatering date pastries, date cookies and date chocolates in its own café situated off Tahlia Street in Riyadh. The menu, however, does not focus solely on date-based food ingredients but on a tempting selection of dishes. Café Bateel’s cuisine fuses the essence of Italian cooking from Umbria “with urban modern sensibilities”. Only the best products, such as extra-virgin olive oil and pasta made from top-quality hard durum wheat are used.
Bateel’s master chefs have attempted to renew Italian cuisine by focusing on healthy ingredients. For example, butter and fresh cream have been replaced by labneh and olive oil.
The a la carte menu includes an exciting choice of gourmet dishes as well as a collection of soups, main courses, desserts and beverages that change with each season.
The season’s specials include a trio of mouthwatering soups: a white onion soup with sautéed mushrooms and red chili pepper oil, an Umbrian winter soup with forest mushrooms, farro (an ancient wheat grain) and garlic and a roasted tomato soup with chickpeas, cumin, rosemary and sour cream.
The list of season’s specials included a risotto. This popular dish does not trace back its origin to the Renaissance, or even Roman times as most Italian dishes. The risotto became popular during the nineteenth century in the northern regions of Italy, Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, where the rice was cultivated and still is.
Café Bateel serves this wonderful seafood risotto with lobster, mussels, scallops, squid and marinated prawns. It is made with arborio, the most popular variety of superfine rice used exclusively to make risottos. Its large, plump grains produce a delicious nutty taste.
The presence of a duck leg confit on the menu is the acknowledgement of yet another great cuisine, that of France.
A confit is a piece of duck, goose or turkey cooked in its own fat and stored in a pot, covered in the same fat to preserve it. The confit is one of the oldest forms of preserving food and is a specialty of southwestern France. At Bateel, you will have your duck leg – the most succulent part of preserved poultry – served “a la sarladaise” that is with fried potatoes. Other garnishes include frisee salad and onion confit.
There is also Bateel Chicken Tagine. The word “tagine” refers to a deep glazed-earthenware dish with a conical lid that fits flush with the rim. It is used in North Africa to prepare and serve a range of dishes that are cooked slowly in a rich and flavorsome sauce. This dish itself is also called tagine and Bateel prepares it with potatoes, fava beans, almonds, apricots, Wanan date. The dish is flavored with Ras El-Hanout, a fragrant mixture of cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and dried rosebuds. Ras El-Hanout literally means: roof of the shop.
The eggs and omelets’ section of the menu includes an interesting version of eggs Benedict. The term “Benedict” refers in fact to a number of dishes using either a puree of salt cod and potato or salt cod mashed with garlic and cream. Café Bateel’s version consists of two poached eggs served on toasted muffins over sliced turkey topped with a Hollandaise sauce and served with a garnish of green asparagus. Indeed, times change and nowadays customers do prefer a lean slice of turkey to salt cod.
I came to Bateel primarily for the date desserts. Most of all, for the wondrous Bateel Sticky Toffee Pudding, served with a regal butterscotch sauce, tangy yoghurt ice cream and caramelized pecan. I can only but agree with my French fellow citizen, a certain Monsieur Misson de Valbourg who, while visiting Britain in 1690, is known to have said: “Blessed be he that invented pudding! For it is manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people, better even than that of the wilderness. Ah! What an excellent thing is an English pudding!”
The pudding is indeed a unique British tradition. From the earliest medieval recipes, through elaborate and brilliant Elizabethan and Stuart confections to the elegant eighteenth- and substantial nineteenth-century puddings, a tradition has evolved which is an integral part of Britain’s culinary heritage. All British puddings originated from two medieval dishes: the early cereal ‘pottage’, which was a kind of porridge with honey, wild fruits and shredded meat or fish added to make it more palatable, and frumenty, a milk pudding made from wheat or barley eaten with milk and honey on festive occasions. There is hardly a town in Britain that does not have a local pudding!
I also loved the Kholas Pecan Pie, a crispy pure butter sugar dough topped with pecan nuts, chewy Kholas dates and date dhibs. This is one of the best date pastries I have ever tasted to this day! I also tasted the Khidri Date Opera, but was unable to recognize the distinctive taste of dates in the layers of date cream.
At that stage, I was unable to order another date cake. I was planning on trying the Barhi Sacher Chocolate cake. The Sachertorte is a famous Viennese gateau, created at the Congress of Vienna by Franz Sacher, a chief pastry cook. Sachertorte, literally means Sacher’s cake. It is a plain chocolate cake filled or topped with apricot jam, then covered with chocolate icing and served traditionally with whipped cream and a cup of coffee. At Bateel the apricot jam is replaced with Barhi date jam.
The dessert menu also offers an amazing selection of cakes and tarts. You might like to try the Hazelnut Rocher Cake, the Dark Pistachio Mousse – a silky dark chocolate mousse with a center of pure pistachio cream on a crispy chocolate praline base. Or try the scrumptious Chocolate Fondant, a warm, 70 percent chocolate cake with a melting center served with vanilla ice cream. Finally, I suggest you try the delicious Bateel sparkling date drink, which is nowhere as sweet as one would imagine.
Bateel is open on Saturday to Thursday from 7.30 a.m. to 1.00 a.m., Friday from 1.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.

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Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

Updated 14 June 2019

Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

  • World Blood Donor Day observed on June 14 to raise awareness of the life-saving importance of blood donation
  • Regular, voluntary donors are vital worldwide for adequate supply of safe blood and blood products

DUBAI: Blood donations in the Middle East have been described as “the gift of life” as the region struggles to cope with the demands posed by conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and the medical needs of a growing population.

International health experts have called on regular donors to step forward to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14.

This year’s campaign focuses on blood donation and universal access to safe blood transfusion, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more donors are needed “to step forward to give the gift of life.”

Those who benefit most from blood donations include people suffering from thalassaemia, a blood disorder that affects hemoglobin and the red blood cell count, as well as victims of road accidents, cancer patients and sickle-cell disease patients.

Experts say while the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have launched numerous initiatives to raise awareness of the lifesaving importance of blood donation, there is an increasing need across a wider region for regular donors.

“Many countries in the region face challenges in making sufficient blood available while also ensuring its quality and safety, especially during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Arab News.

The GCC countries say they collect in total more than 10 whole blood donations per 1,000 population per year, or about 1 percent, Al-Mandhari said.

According to WHO, blood donations by 1 to 3 percent of the population are sufficient to meet a country’s needs. Even so, achieving self-sufficiency is a daunting challenge for many countries.

Al-Mandhari said that more than 90 percent of the blood is collected from voluntary, unpaid donors, aged from 18 to 44, with an increasing proportion of repeat donors. What is more, blood demand is unpredictable and even differs with each blood type. “For example O- blood can be given to patients with all blood types. But AB+ can only be given to patients with AB+,” he said.

Then there is the issue of short shelf life.

“To be ready to help patients in all hospitals, countries aim to stock usually six days’ worth of each blood type at all times,” Al-Mandhari said. “Since blood has a short shelf life — a 42-day window — and cannot be stockpiled, blood banks are forced to depend on donors to help maintain stocks.”

WHO’s most recent report on blood safety and availability points to “gaps in the key elements of national blood systems” in the Middle East.

A Saudi donor flashes the v-sign for victory as he gives blood in Jeddah. The Kingdom has one of the highest rates of repeat donors in the region. (AFP )

While GCC countries have taken steps to keep stocks at optimum levels, other countries in the Middle East are lagging behind international standards. The WHO report shows wide variations in annual blood-donation rates among countries, ranging from 0.7 per 1,000 population in Yemen to 29 per 1,000 population in Lebanon.

Al-Mandhari laid out the solution in a few easy steps: “Governments need to provide adequate resources, and put in place systems and infrastructure to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, regular unpaid blood donors, provide quality donor care, promote and implement appropriate clinical use of blood; and set up systems for oversight and surveillance across the blood-transfusion supply chain.”

On the positive side, Saudi Arabia recorded a rate of 13.8 per 1,000 population, with a healthy spread across all age groups. The country also has one of the highest rates of repeat donors (91 percent) in the region. According to the WHO report, the proportion of repeat, voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation in the Kingdom is 65.3 percent, which “will keep the prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections among blood donors at much lower levels than in the general population.”

In recent years, Saudi health officials have introduced a number of measures to ensure adequate stocks in blood banks, including those run by the Ministry of Health and dedicated centers. These include a large facility at King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and the country’s Central Blood Bank.

In the Kingdom, to be eligible for blood donation, donors must be aged over 17, weigh more than 50 kg, and have passed a brief medical examination. The health ministry recently launched Wateen, an app designed to ease blood-donation procedures and help ensure facilities across the Kingdom have adequate quantities of blood by 2020.

KFMC officials say that every day at least 2,000 units of blood components are needed to sustain a minimum supply for patients at the facility and other governmental and non-governmental hospitals in Riyadh. Donated blood components are essential for the management of cases involving cancer, sickle-cell disease, organ transplant, surgery, childbirth and trauma, to name just a few.

The situation is not very different in the other GCC countries, which also need more donors.

In the UAE, Dubai Blood Donation Center, which accounts for roughly half of the total blood collected in the emirates, frequently highlights the urgent need for donors. In 2018 alone, it ran 635 blood-donation campaigns, which resulted in 63,735 donors and a collection of 50,456 blood units.

While all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity. “There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days. So donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks,” Dr. Mai Raouf, director of Dubai Blood Donation Center, said.

“People can donate blood every eight weeks, with each donation potentially saving up to three lives,” she told Arab News. 

Given that transfusion of blood and blood products save millions of lives every year, and the fact that “regular donors are the safest group of donors,” the importance of encouraging people to return to donate blood, rather than be one-time donors, can hardly be overemphasized, experts say.

“Without a system based on voluntary, unpaid blood donation, particularly regular voluntary donation, no country can provide sufficient blood for all patients who require transfusion,” Al-Mandhari said.

“WHO is calling on all countries in the region to celebrate and thank individuals who donate blood — and to encourage those who have not yet donated blood to start donating,” he said.