This simple quick bread includes tons of juicy Medjool dates, making it an option for breaking the daily sunrise-to-sunset fast during the holy month of Ramadan, a tradition that Muslims observe in Tanzania and across the world. The tradition is rooted in the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, who is said to have called for observers to break their fasts with dates. Many Muslims include dates on their iftar tables (iftar is the evening meal eaten at sunset during Ramadan). This bread can, of course, be enjoyed by any and all, year-round. It’s wonderful on its own with hot cups of coffee like Buna (Eritrean Coffee) or tea like Shaah Cadays (Somali Spiced Tea with Milk) or topped with a soft cheese like goat cheese, ricotta, or cream cheese. It’s also wonderful served in slices on a cheeseboard. If you can’t find Medjool dates, use whichever are the plumpest, least-dry dates you can find or substitute your favorite dried fruit such as dried apricots or dried cherries (you need about 1 cup of your favorite dried fruit).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
Place the dates in a small bowl and sprinkle with the salt and baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the mixture and allow it to sit until it cools.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer (or a whisk and a lot of elbow grease), beat the sugar and butter until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the date mixture (water and all) and then fold in the flour. The batter will be very stiff.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and, using a rubber spatula, smooth out the top so the loaf is even. Bake until the loaf is dark golden brown, a toothpick tests clean when inserted into the center of the loaf, and the bread is firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. Let the bread cool completely on a wire rack before turning it out of the pan and slicing it. Leftovers can be stored in a plastic bag at room temperature for up to 3 days (if the slices get a bit dry, you can revive them in a toaster oven or regular oven set at 300 degrees F for a few minutes before serving).