The earliest form of this dish was made in ancient Mesopotamia. Incredibly, we have written versions of recipes for mersu in several “cooking tablets” dating from c1750 BC and now held in the Yale Babylonian Collection, a staggering repository of Mesopotamian literature. These tablets weren’t like the cookery books we use today. Most Mesopotamians couldn’t read; rather than providing instructions for home bakers at the time, the tablets were created so that future learned elites could read them and learn about Mesopotamian culture.

Mersu uses only two ingredients: dates and pistachio nuts. Both were part of ancient Middle Eastern diets for centuries. Date palms in particular were highly revered in Mesopotamian society. Although mersu may seem simple, it was greatly prized in ancient times. There were even professional chefs whose sole job was to create these nutty balls.


  • 2 cups of dates, pitted
  • 2 cups of pistachio nuts, shelled


  • STEP 1

    Mash the dates into a smooth paste. You can use a mortar and pestle or a food processor, or chop them finely with a knife.

  • STEP 2

    Grind or pound the pistachio nuts.

  • STEP 3

    Combine half of the ground pistachio nuts with the date paste and mix well. With damp hands, roll the mixture into small, uniform balls (moisture will make the mixture easier to handle).

  • STEP 4

    Spread the remaining ground pistachios on a dish or piece of waxed paper.

  • STEP 5

    Roll each mersu ball in the ground nuts, patting gently all around to ensure the nuts stick.

Recipe sourced from Pass The Flamingo

This article was first published in the November 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine