Many palms are cultivated for their fruits. The phoenix type is no exception. Its genus contains more than 12 different species of wild date palms that are used in commercial production. Dates have long been a major staple food for many ancient civilisations. Arabs and Hebrews, for instance, would make date wine and vinegar, bake bread and different sweets. Today dates are cultivated not only in the Middle East, but also in northern Africa, in the Americas. Given the amount of time this fruit has been around, no wonder different peoples have come up with many wonderful ideas of incorporating it into dishes. Of course, dates are thought of as an out-of-hand thing in itself but they are really so versatile. They are pitted and stuffed with nuts, citrus peels, tahini or young fresh cheeses or cream cheese. They are incorporated into a pastry. Think date nut bread or maamoul – date filled cookies. They are covered in chocolate and included into Christmas puddings. Dates are used in savoury cooking as well, think tajines (a dish that is named after the famous earthenware pot where it’s cooked).
To truly enjoy a nice juicy date, you’d have to try it raw. But not straight from the palm kind of raw, but rather soft dried raw. Try to find the best dates. That means that they have to be juicy and soft, pliable to touch, not dried and robust. Take 1 cup of those and combine with 1 cup of nuts of your choice: walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, you name it. Put everything in a food processor, powerful enough to make a sticky mass out of it all. Blend for 2 minutes, then add 2 Tbsp honey, a nice pinch of salt for flavour balance, and some coconut flakes. Blend until thick paste is formed.
Fill a bowl with roasted sesame seeds (you can definitely use regular ones straight from the box if you don’t want to spend time messing around with them). Take some paste with a spoon and roll it into a ball, rolling them then in the bowl to get a nice sesame cover. Put in the fridge to chill until everything holds firmly and serve the sweets right away.
To enhance your perception of ‘datiness’, we recommend you to hunt down date molasses. It’s a thick syrup with deep, rich, nutty, earthy undertones. Imagine how well it goes with milk cocktails and ice cream floats. BTW, you can do it yourself in no time. And by ‘no time’ we mean an overnight soaking of 10-12 dates in a cup of hot water (no need to maintain specific temp, just pour some hot water over dates and let them flounder there for 6-8 hours). Transfer them to a food processor and blend until runny. You don’t have to get rid of small particles at all – it’s not date milk. With that concoction, you can elevate your morning drinks, sweeten iced teas or bourbon, if you wish. Commercial date molasses, of course, is another story – it’s much richer and flavorful, while this DIY substitute is definitely more watery (you can evaporate some moisture in the oven) but still very nice on pancakes or toasts.