A traditional Middle Eastern food, people have been enjoying dates for thousands of years. The sweet, delicious fruit is native to the Persian Gulf and was once known as “the candy that grows on trees.” Today, they are most often available dried at grocery stores, though you can sometimes find them fresh during the late summer at Middle Eastern or farmer’s markets.
Fresh dates are soft, juicy and sticky-sweet. Dried versions are even sweeter and chewy like prunes or raisins with a thin, papery skin. Dates come in a number of a varieties; deglet nor and khadrawy (bread) dates are the most common, but medjool has the highest quality flavor and texture.
Whether fresh or dried, dates are delicious as a snack eaten out-of-hand. But with the pits removed, dates can be stuffed with a number of tasty ingredients like nuts, cheese or candied fruit. Thanks to their intense sweetness, dates are also ideal to mix into granola, hot cereals, baked goods and even pilafs.
When purchasing fresh dates, make sure they are unblemished and plump; you can store them at room temperature, but they’ll keep for even longer if you store them in the fridge. When it comes to dried dates, keep an eye out for ones that are moist, plump and appear freshly-dried; they’ll have a much superior flavor to older, stale ones.
Source: www.wikipedia.org, www.health-care-clinic.org
Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, September 30 2006
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Moroccan Chicken and Date Tagine
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 unwaxed lemon, zested
4 fresh dates or 4 soft dried dates
2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
50 g pine nuts
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon harissa
350 ml chicken stock
200 g couscous
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 55 mins
1. Cut the dates in half, discard the stone and then chop into six pieces.
2. Slice the chicken into short strips.
3. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and stir in the onion.
4. Cook until slippery and soft, then add in the pine kernels and lemon zest, salt and pepper.
5. Turn down the heat and cook for about five minutes, before adding in the chicken.
6. Cook until the meat is lightly browned.
7. Squeeze the juice from half the lemon over the top, stir in the harissa, stock and dates.
8. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water is reduced by half.
9. You should end up with a thick, rusty coloured sauce.
10. Meanwhile, prepare the couscous by placing it in a bowl and adding 300ml boiling water, remaining olive oil and salt.
11. Cover and leave for 15 minutes, then use a fork to loosen the grains and mix in the butter.
12. Serve the chicken mixture over the couscous, garnished with some chopped coriander and a lemon wedge.
Hot Date with a Chicken
1/4 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1 small apple – peeled, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons raisins
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
2 (6 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 55 mins
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Combine the dates, apple, apricots, raisins, orange zest, and orange juice in a small bowl. Season with cayenne pepper, cardamom, and mace; mix well.
3. Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of heavy plastic (resealable freezer bags work well) on a solid, level surface. Firmly pound the chicken with the smooth side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Mound the fruit filling on the flattened breasts and roll up, tucking in the ends. Secure the chicken with toothpicks.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts, and cook until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place in the preheated oven, and continue cooking the chicken breasts until the filling is hot and the juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
Celery With Almond Butter and Dates
3 -4 celery ribs, washed and dried
1/2 cup almond butter
5 -6 medjool dates, cut into eighths
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 0 mins
Total Time: 10 mins
1. Choose celery ribs that are fresh and bright green.
2. Cut the celery ribs into 2-inch lengths.
3. Stir the almond butter well, and pour some into a small bowl.
4. If desired, add a light sprinkling of salt to the almond butter and stir to combine.
5. Spread a layer of almond butter into the cavity of each piece of celery.
6. Top each celery piece with date pieces.
7. Arrange on a serving plate.
Wild Rice With Walnuts and Dates
4 stalks celery, chopped (2 cups)
1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1/3 cup dates, snipped (such as Medjool)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 1 hr 5 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 20 mins
1. In a 10-inch skillet cook celery and onion in hot butter about 10 minutes or until tender; add uncooked wild rice; cook and stir 3 minutes.
2. Add broth and water, bring to a boiling;reduce heat; cover and simmer for 50 to 60 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
3. Stir in dates and walnuts, cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes more or until heated through and remaining liquid is absorbed.
Fragrant Moroccan Beef, Date, Honey and Prune Tagine – Crock Pot
3 lbs organic beef, trimmed of fat & cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb onion, peeled & quartered
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled & chopped finely
1 lb carrot, peeled & cut into chunks
9 ounces canned or fresh tomatoes
4 ounces dates, pitted but kept whole
6 ounces prunes, pitted but kept whole
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 pint beef stock
1 cinnamon stick
6 teaspoons ras el hanout spice mix (or 2 teaspoons cumin powder, 2 teaspoons coriander powder, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon turmeric)
salt & pepper
2 ounces toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
Prep Time: 45 mins
Cook Time: 8 mins
Total Time: 53 mins
1. Par-boil the carrots in boiling water for about 3 -5 minutes.
2. Preheat the electric Tagine or crock pot to High.
3. Heat up half of the olive oil in a large frying pan and quickly brown the onion quarters over a fairly high heat until charred & coloured well. Tip them into the crock pot.
4. Add the chopped garlic & par-boiled carrots to the onions in the crock pot.
5. Make up 1/2 pint of stock with a beef stock cube. Add the honey to the the stock & ALL the dried spices. Tip the honey & spiced stock into the crock pot & mix well. Add the cinnamon stick.
6. Add the tinned tomatoes, dates & prunes to the crock pot – mix well.
7. Heat up the remaining olive oil and brown the beef cubes in small batches to sear & seal them. As you finish browning them, add the beef to the crock pot.
8. When you have finished browning all the beef, give the whole mixture a good stir & season with salt & pepper.
9. Cook on high for between 6 & 10 hours depending on your crock pot’s wattage & settings.
10. Serve the beef tagine with fluffy couscous and garnish with the chopped fresh coriander & toasted flaked almonds. It also works well with rice too.
P.S. Watch out for the cinnamon stick! We sometimes award the lucky winner of the cinnamon stick with an extra glass of wine.
P.P.S. You can use dates & prunes which have not been pitted, they do tend to hold their shape better too, just warn your guests that they must look out for the stones
Moroccan Chickpeas With Carrot and Dates
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 teaspoons olive oil
2 brown onions, halved, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, cut into short sticks
3 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 cup chicken stock
2 (400 g) cans diced or fresh tomatoes
2 (400 g) cans chickpeas
1/2 cup dried pitted dates
50 g baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon honey
3 teaspoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
fresh coriander sprig, to serve
ground cinnamon, to serve
couscous, to serve
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Spread the almonds over a baking tray. Bake in oven for 4 minutes or until toasted. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. (You can also toast these in the microwave if preferred).
3. Heat oil in a deep frypan or wok over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and carrot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add the cumin, ginger and turmeric, and stir to coat and toast the spices.
4. Add the stock and tomatoes. Bring to the boil. Add the chickpeas and dates. Simmer until the sauce thickens to desired consistency and carrots are cooked, about 10-15 minutes.
5. Roll up the spinach leaves and slice finely, and add to the tagine, allowing it to wilt. Stir in the honey and lemon juice/citric acid. Season with salt and pepper as required.
6. Divide the tagine among the serving dishes (on couscous if desired). Sprinkle with almonds and cinnamon. Top with coriander to serve.
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