15 September 2010


Aside from the ubiquitous date square, most folks don't seem to think of integrating dates into their cuisine.

Well, friends, it's never too late to start. Dates are a sweet, delicious, and nutrient-rich fruit. Even better, they're versatile. Such a tasty, rich flavour can be used in many ways, for just about any audience.

When I say that dates are good for you, I'm not entirely misleading you. According to the USDA, a serving of 3 Medjool dates in all their tasty goodness gives you 500mg of potassium, well over a gram of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. That's more than a banana has to offer you! Of course, they're high in naturally occurring sugars, and the 3 dates alone amount to 200 calories. So as with most tasty things, moderation is wise when eating dates.

Forgetting for a moment the more scientific side of food, dates have more to offer than just their contribution to your "Recommended Daily Allowances". Dark, moist, tasty dates are versatile enough – despite their sweetness – to be used in dishes from appetizers, salads and entrees right through to desserts.

In addition to date squares, I've enjoyed dates in muffins, breads and sweet loaves, hors d'oeuvres, salads, and rice dishes. There's something about the sweet, dark flavour of dates that stands up well to salty dishes, creating a great swirl of tastes for the tastebuds. Likewise, that sweet intensity contrasts nicely with a bit of sour fruit – for a fantastic mid-afternoon snack try pairing a few dates with some fresh fall apples.

In the spirit of raising the under-appreciated date to new heights, here are two recipes incorporating dates into everyday cuisine. The first will give you great low fat breakfasts and snacks – or a sweet treat that's lighter than the average dessert. The second, an unlikely pairing that works better than anyone could imagine (before they try it!), is an easy salty-sweet crowd pleaser for any party.

ORANGE DATE MUFFINS (adapted from the old Marvelous Muffins cookbook)
1 orange, washed and dried
1/2 cup pitted cooking dates (or 1/2 cup pitted Medjool dates, lightly chopped)
1/2 cup orange juice (or water if you don't have any OJ in the fridge!)
1/3 cup butter, softened slightly and cut into large cubes
1/4 cup yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose or wheat or a mixture)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
pinch nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the very top and bottom off your unpeeled orange. Avoid cutting into the orange itself, instead removing just the peel from either end to discard. Then cut the rest of the orange (peel and all) into quarters, and place in a blender. Add the orange juice. Give the blender a couple of pulses.

Add the butter and dates to the blender, and give it a couple of good pulses to chop the dates up. Add the egg, vanilla and brown sugar and mix again with a few pulses.

In a large steel bowl, mix your dry ingredients together, including the nutmeg. Make a well in the centre of the bowl. Pour in the blender mixture, scraping out as much of what's in the blender as you can. It will be a bit thick in terms of consistency.

Carefully mix the dry and wet ingredients, but do not beat or over-stir. Again, it will be a fairly thick batter.

Pour into greased muffin tins and bake. For regular muffins, bake for about 17 minutes. For mini-muffins, bake for about 9 minutes.

Delicious hot or cold, these also freeze very well.

20 pitted Medjool dates (allow 2 dates per guest)
10 strips sliced bacon (don't use thick cuts for this!)
black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut each strip of bacon in half crossways, to give you 20 slices in total.

Wrap a strip of bacon around each date, and secure it by putting a toothpick through the centre of the date. Set on a cookie sheet. Grind a little bit of black pepper over the prepared dates. You can do all of this in advance and refrigerate until you're ready to cook them, or go right to the oven.

Bake in centre of oven for 7 minutes. Remove, turn dates over, and return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove, and place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain off the grease. Transfer finished dates to a serving platter.

VARIATION I: You can go further with the bacon-wrapped dates, stuffing them with parmesan cheese. This makes them into intense little flavour bombs, but it does also require more prep time. If you're interested in trying it, just slice each date up one side to open it up for stuffing. Put in a sliver of fresh parmesan cheese (buy a fresh wedge of parmesan, and slice off slivers about 3/4 inch long, and not too thick). Wrap with the bacon and bake as described above.

VARIATION II: Take whole salted pecans or almonds, and use to stuff the dates before wrapping the bacon around them. One nut per date will create a pleasant crunchy surprise in the middle of that salty-sweet hors d'oeuvre!

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