The date palm, native to the Middle East, also grows easily in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California. For the past two weeks, my CSA box has included a bag full of the freshest, sweetest dates I’ve ever had.
As a recent transplant to the West Coast, I had never had a fresh date before. I never liked the hard, withered dry dates in the bulk bin of my local health food store on the East Coast, but fresh, ripe dates just picked from the tree are juicy and sweet, with a crisp skin that tries to slip off as you eat them.
The people of the Middle East have consumed dates as a part of their staple diet for centuries, mainly owing to their high nutritional value. Apart from being rich in fiber, dates also contain Vitamins A, C, K, niacin and folate, and are also an excellent source of calcium, iron and potassium. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, it is said that one date is the minimum foundation of a balanced and healthy diet.
In the Middle East and Asia, dates are thought to have many medicinal uses:
- Since dates get digested very easily, they are used for supplying quick energy.
- Raw milk, when boiled with dates, is thought to be very nutritious and invigorating drink for children and adults, especially during convalescence.
- The niacin content in dates makes them an excellent cure for intestinal disturbances.
- Regular consumption of dates has been found to check the growth of pathological organisms and help in the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines.
- Dates have been found to be beneficial for those suffering from constipation.
- Asian studies have shown that consumption of dates, soaked overnight and crushed, is good for those who have a weak heart.
- Many believe that dates serve as a tonic for improving sex stamina as well as sterility due to functional disorders.
- Asian researchers have speculated that dates are effective in preventing abdominal cancer.
Selection and Storage
Because dates are very sweet, they can easily be converted into sugar that you can use in other recipes. To make date sugar, arrange sliced dates on a baking sheet and bake at 450° for 10 to 15 minutes, or until very dry and hard as rocks, but not burnt.
You can also dehydrate them for several days to achieve the same effect. Grind or process the dry dates in a food processor until granulated, and use as a 1-for-1 substitution for cane sugar.
Tightly wrapped fresh dates will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. If you have a surplus of fresh dates, freeze them and they will last throughout the winter. You can also dry them in your dehydrator and store them in a cool, dry place for 6 to 12 months.
Here are some easy fresh date recipes to help you enjoy the special qualities of this unique fruit.
Simple Date Spread
- 1 cup fresh or barely dried dates
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh-squeezed is optimal)
- 1 tsp . rosewater (optional)
- Pit the dates, chop them roughly, and pack them firmly into a bowl.
- Add lemon juice, rosewater (if used), and sufficient pure water to barely cover the dates.
- Refrigerate overnight, then purée using a blender.
- Store in a jar in the fridge.
- Enjoy as a topping for fruit desserts, or as a spread on bread or crackers!
Fresh Dates Stuffed with Pistachio and Orange
- 16 fresh dates
- 3/4 cup (100g) raw, shelled pistachio nuts
- 5 Tbsp. (40g) powdered sugar or 1 Tbsp. stevia powder
- 1/4 tsp. orange blossom water
- Finely cut zest of 1 orange
- 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
- Using a food processor, finely grind the pistachios.
- Transfer to a bowl and mix to a paste with the powdered sugar or stevia, orange blossom water, orange zest and juice.
- With a sharp paring knife, make a slit down the sides of each date and remove the pits.
- Push a teaspoonful of the paste into the date and reshape.
- Enjoy with your favorite Mediterranean or Middle Eastern dish!
Stuffed Fresh Dates
From Raw Epicurean
- 36 fresh dates
- 1/4 cup each walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, organic raisins, dried cranberries, organic dried apricots
- 2 Tbsp. tangerine juice, fresh squeezed (or any fresh citrus juice will do)
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. fresh nutmeg, zested
- Cut each date open midway and remove the pit. Set aside.
- Place the remaining ingredients into a food processor and process approximately 20 seconds to mince the nuts and seeds, and incorporate all ingredients well.
- Open each date wide enough to hold 1/2 tablespoon of the stuffing.
- Enjoy as a high-energy snack or dessert any time!
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