Date pasta. (Courtesy of Natural Delights Medjool Dates)
Several months ago I had a date – to meet real dates up close and personal.
Flying down to San Diego and then driving to Arizona and the famous Bard Valley, I had an opportunity to see how fresh and natural grapes are grown and cultivated in beautiful groves filled with neat rows of palm trees, all bearing the weight of this softy, chewy and absolutely delicious treat that's naturally sweet yet fat, cholesterol and gluten-free. Plump and juicy, natural dates are a good source of fibre, iron and potassium.
I travelled with a group of professional foodies from across Canada that included several chefs, a home economist, a registered dietitian, a recipe tester and writers, and we were guests of the farmers and company and industry officials of Natural Delights Medjool Dates who graciously let us climb their trees and chomp on these naturally sweet "king of fruits."
Awe-inspiring and quite astonishing to see the beauty of these hand-picked fruits in all their glory.
Here my travelling mates created a series of recipes for Natural Delights Medjool Dates that are delicious and easy to create — and make me nostalgic for a walk through one of those lovely groves where the palm trees are heavy with this delightful treat!
Roasted Date and Tomato Pasta
This heart-healthy pasta is filled with delicious roasted dates and tomatoes for a new sauce idea for dinner. Roasting the fruit adds sweetness and texture. Recipe courtesy of Emily Richards, professional home economist, TV personality, writer and cookbook author.
In a bowl, toss together dates, tomatoes, oil, garlic, thyme and pepper. Spread in single layer onto small parchment paper lined baking sheet. Place in preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for about 10 minutes, or until tomatoes start to split. Remove from oven. Meanwhile, in large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta for about 10 minutes or until tender but firm. Drain well and return to pot.
In a skillet, bring vegetable broth, parsley and hot pepper flakes to boil. Add roasted dates and tomatoes and stir to combine. Pour over cooked pasta and toss well to combine.
Makes 6 servings.
Date and Feta Stuffed Chicken Breast
Serve this chicken with steamed greens or a simple salad. Recipe courtesy of Chef Joanne Lusted, recipe developer, cooking instructor, writer and media personality.
1/3 tsp (0.5 ml) sea salt
1/4 cup (50 ml) wild rice
1/2 cup (125 ml) crumbled low-fat feta cheese
1/2 cup (125 ml) pitted and coarsely chopped fresh natural dates
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) chopped fresh cilantro or tarragon
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 5-6 oz (150-180g) each
4 slices prosciutto
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) olive oil
3 Tbsp. (45 ml) whole-wheat or brown rice flour
11/2 cups (375 mL) low-sodium chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Add salt and stir in rice. Return water to a boil, reduce heat to low. Cover pot with a lid and simmer for 35 minutes until rice is tender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and allow rice to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta, dates, cilantro or tarragon, 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Lay chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound with flat side of a meat mallet until 1/4" (0.5 cm) thick. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Place a ¼ cup (60 ml) of stuffing mixture onto centre of each pounded chicken breast. Roll chicken breast to enclose filling, tucking in ends. Lay prosciutto slices on a flat surface and roll each stuffed chicken breast in 1 slice of prosciutto, securing each bundle with a toothpick or butcher twine.
Heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken breasts into pan, seam side down, and cook for 2 minutes per side until prosciutto is light golden and crisp on all sides. Transfer chicken to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in oven for 10 minutes until chicken is fully cooked and stuffing is hot throughout.
While chicken is cooking, prepare sauce. Combine flour and ½ cup (125ml) chicken stock in a bowl. Whisk to combine, making sure there are no lumps. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add flour mixture to sauté pan. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes. Add remaining stock to pan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, stir and allow sauce to simmer until thickened and reduced by one-third, about 6-8 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste and stir in remaining flat-leaf parsley.
Grandmaman Leontine’s French Canadian Date Squares
This recipe is guaranteed to bring back memories for many. Recipe courtesy of Helen Charlebois, Ottawa-based registered dietitian, nutrition consultant and writer.
1 cup (250 ml) compacted fresh natural dates, pitted, and cut into quarter pieces
1 1/3 (325 ml) cup brown sugar – lightly packed
1 1/3 (325 ml) cup water
1 cup (250 ml) brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (325 ml) oat flour (or oats ground to flour consistency in food processor)
1 cup (250 ml) butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly butter a glass 8-inch (20 cm) square baking dish.
To prepare base, in a bowl, combine brown sugar, all-purpose flour, oat flour and softened butter. Divide mixture in half. Put first half of mixture into pan, pressing down lightly. Set aside other half of mixture.
To prepare topping, in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat bring the dates, sugar and water to a boil, and continue boiling until date filling thickens, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly.
Spread date filling over the base. Gently cover filling with the remaining oat mixture.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the mixture is golden.
Five-Spice & Orange Medjool Date Squares
The addition of Chinese five-spice and orange peel amps up this traditional favourite to OMG goodness! Five-spice is available wherever spices are sold. Recipe courtesy of Heather Trim, professional recipe developer, food stylist, food writer and industry spokesperson.
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) each all-purpose flour and large flake oats
3/4 cup (175 ml) brown sugar
1 tbsp. (15 ml) Chinese 5-spice
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) each baking soda and salt
2/3 cup (150 ml) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Place chopped dates in a medium saucepan with water and orange peel. Simmer, uncovered, stirring until mixture is thick and just a few pieces of dates are visible, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Let cool while oven is preheating.
Preheat oven to 350F (180C) and lightly spray an 8-inch (20 cm) square baking dish. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir flour with oats, sugar, Chinese 5–spice, baking soda and salt until mixed. Using your fingers, mix in butter until crumbly and clumps form.
Press half the mixture on base of pan. Gently spread date mixture (it’s fine if it’s still a bit warm) over top. Crumble remaining oatmeal mixture over dates, pressing gently. Bake until crumble is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack before cutting into squares.
Makes 16 squares.
Dreamy Medjool Date Truffles
"These are a variation on my famous Peanut Date truffles," says chef Michael P. Clive. "This “truffle” combines chocolate, walnuts and ginger, for a treat that is composed of healthy and delicious ingredients!" Chef Clive is also a TV personality, writer, recipe developer and industry spokesperson.
Fresh natural dates
Dark chocolate, chopped
Candied Ginger, chopped
Line a tray or large plate with wax or parchment paper.
Using a small paring knife, cut a slit lengthwise in each date to remove the pit; set aside. Stuff each date with a walnut half.
Melt chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water or in a microwave for about 1-2 minutes. Remove the chocolate from heat just before it’s melted, and stir to finish melting completely. Roll each date in melted chocolate. Place on paper, top with chopped ginger and chill until set. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.