Monday, June 17, 2024

Sweet yet high in fiber, the 50-million-year-old date is as popular as ever

I’ve always loved dates, especially the big, soft Medjools. In Mazatlán, big pyramids of them appear in the mercados as the holiday season approaches, and they’ve become one of the seasonal pleasures I look forward to each year.

Luckily for me, Medjools are the most popular date grown in Mexico, mostly in Sonora and Baja California. And while Mexico doesn’t rank very high in terms of date-producing countries, there’s enough grown to supply umpteen holiday baskets of dried fruit and nuts. Interestingly, Medjool dates are not actually a dried fruit — they’re packaged fresh as soon as they’re picked with no processing.

Over time, they’ll dry out naturally, shrinking and wrinkling like the rest of us. Store them at room temperature for a month or two, refrigerated for up to six months and in the freezer for a year. Frozen dates, by the way, make a delicious cold snack. Just remember to take the pits out before you freeze them.

Sometimes you’ll see what looks like a white powder on the skin; that’s just the date’s natural sugar rising to the surface and nothing to worry about. Datiles are 50%–68% sugar, depending on the variety.

High-fiber dates are one of the oldest known foods in the world; fossils show that date palms have existed for 50 million years! Dates were most likely brought to Mexico by the Spaniards in the 1700s.

Medjool dates may look like dried fruit, but they’re actually packed fresh.
Medjool dates may look like dried fruit, but they’re actually packed fresh.

Cheese-Stuffed Dates

A simply delicious appetizer or munchie that’s guaranteed to please.

  • 12 Medjool dates
  • 2 oz. blue cheese OR soft goat cheese
  • Optional: 2 Tbsp. pistachios (shelled), honey

Slit dates lengthwise and remove pits. Fill hollow with cheese. Crush pistachios with a rolling pin and sprinkle on top. Drizzle with honey if desired.

Pork Tenderloin with Date & Cilantro Relish

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1½ lb.)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ⅔ cup Medjool dates (about 4 oz.), chopped small
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro plus more for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 F. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper and cook, turning, until browned all over, 6-8 minutes.

Transfer skillet to oven and cook pork 10-15 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 140 F.

Transfer to a cutting board; let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing. Save pan drippings.

Toss dates, orange juice, reserved pan drippings, 3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Spoon relish over pork and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Banana-Date Smoothie

  • ½ cup unsweetened almond or regular milk
  • 4 pitted dates
  • 1 banana, preferably frozen
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ cup ice cubes
  • 1/8 tsp. vanilla
  • Optional: 1 tsp. almond or peanut butter

In a blender, combine everything (including nut butter if using). Blend well until dates are in tiny pieces and everything is smooth.

Soak the dates first before starting on these coconut-rolled sweets.
Soak the dates first before starting on these coconut-rolled sweets.

Date, Walnut & Coconut Bourbon Balls

Leave out the bourbon for a kid-friendly version.

  • 9 oz. pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut, plus more for rolling
  • 1½ cups walnuts, minced
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Steep dates in 3 Tbsp. boiling water for 3 minutes. Transfer to food processor or blender; add 1 cup coconut, walnuts, bourbon, cocoa and powdered sugar and pulse until it forms a chunky mixture. Using a teaspoon, form rounded balls and roll in remaining coconut to completely coat.

Place on a baking sheet and chill until set, at least 15 minutes or overnight.

Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate-Date Energy Bars

  • 2 cups pitted Medjool dates, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups raw cashews
  • 1 cup raw or roasted unsalted almonds
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. cold espresso or strong coffee
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ pinch cayenne pepper

Place everything in a food processor. Pulse and process about 1 minute; check to ensure mixture is moist enough to stick together. Add more coffee if needed. Continue to process until mixture becomes a chunky mass.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or plastic wrap. Scoop mixture into pan. Press down with a spatula until even. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top and smooth again with your hands.

Refrigerate until firm, 2-3 hours. Remove from pan, unwrap, and cut into bars of your preferred size. Store, refrigerated, in container or zip-top bag.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats is her first book.

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