I absolutely adore dates. Date cookies, date cake, dates on ice cream, date paste, dates on their own. They are wonderfully sweet and I love their soft, sticky texture. Mejdool dates are the way to go. I discovered these beauties at the outdoor market. In Italy they are called datteri and since I wasn’t sure of the conversion, I let the lady give me as many dates as she wanted, which resulted in a lot of dates. After nabbing a date here and there from the jar during the week, I decided to make something with them. I didn’t want new, I didn’t want hard. I just wanted the simple, caramel-like flavor of dates in a different form. So I adapted, from who else but My New Roots. Sarah Britton’s recipe for raw date squares involves six simple ingredients and no baking required. Perfection.
Raw baking is what’s up. Seriously, it makes my taste buds do a little dance. Not only is raw baking easy, it allows you to reap the full benefits and nutrients of the food, which can be diminished from cooking. Dates are a staple in raw desserts because they are extremely sweet, rich, versatile, and their texture makes for moist, luscious, and luxurious treats. Plus, using dates means you can say the recipe is sugar-free. I totally ate mine for breakfast…and after lunch…and after dinner. Dates are my jam.
Dates are powerhouses. These wrinkly nuggets pack quite a nutrient, vitamin, and mineral punch. The fruit is rich in fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. They contain vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin K, and many antioxidants such as tannins. They are easily digestible and extremely energizing. Plus, they are a great alternative to those ugly fake sweeteners and refined sugars. Did I mention that I love dates?
During the making of this dessert, I spent a lot of time with my walnuts, or noci, in Italian. In Italy, it is normal to buy whole walnuts instead of the packaged kind [but definitely go for the packaged kind if you want]. It took me a while to crack and dismantle all those suckers [albeit, part of the time was spent marveling at the way the nuts are nestled in their shells] and it quickly turned into a walnut war zone in the kitchen. But that was all the fun of it.
There is something profoundly beautiful about becoming intimate with my food. I think of it as a reciprocal relationship. My food is definitely going to be getting intimate with my body so…I just get intimate with it first. People sometimes ask me why I take the more ‘tedious’ route. Why do I peel all my chickpea skins when making hummus? Why do I scrape the skins off my soaking almonds? It’s simple: I like to spend time with my food. Why? Because it’s meditative, intimate, personal, and rewarding. And when I cracked one walnut perfectly down the middle to discover a heart, boy, was it all worth it.
Now I leave you with some very sweet pictures and a fabulous raw recipe. How do you like your dates? I would love to hear from you!
Recipe adapted from My New Roots
Raw Date Squares
2 cups chopped, pitted Medjool dates
2 Tbsp. water
Juice of 1 large, unwaxed blood orange
Zest of 1 large, unwaxed blood orange
2 cups walnuts
1 cup raw oats ground in a food processor or oat flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp honey [use maple syrup for vegan version]
1. Soak dates in water and orange juice for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring once or twice.
2. Coarsely grind nuts in a food processor. Add ground oats or oat flour and pulse to mix.
3. Add cinnamon first, then honey/maple syrup one tablespoon at a time until the mixture holds together.
4. Lightly oil a 9-inch square pan or round cake pan with coconut oil
5. Press a little over half of the nut mixture into the bottom of the pan, reserving the rest for later.
6. Puree the date and orange juice mixture until it reaches a desired consistency. I pureed mine until it was smooth but still had little bits of date speckled throughout. Mix in orange zest or use to sprinkle on top of squares.
7. Crumble the remaining half of the crust mixture over the dates; press lightly with your hands or a spoon.
8. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes and serve. Watch it disappear before your eyes.
As always, thank you Sarah B. for your knowledge, inspiration, and amazingly delicious recipes!