Recipes for dates and how best to cook with them
These recipes are part of a package of stories on dates in Southern California.
When it comes to cooking with dates, not all varieties are created equal. For the most part, you can bank on dates bringing their characteristic murky sweetness to any dish. However, depending on the type, that sweetness can be more or less intense and reminiscent of different styles of sugars. Alicia Gonzalez of the Bautista Family Organic Date Ranch near Salton Sea breaks down what you can expect flavor-wise from the various types of dates they grow:
“Medjools are the king of the dates,” says Gonzalez. “They are big, meaty, creamy and sweet and have a classic, maple syrup flavor. Khadrawy are sweeter than the Medjools but smaller, and they have more of a brown sugar flavor. Halawy dates have a delicate sweetness and a slightly chewy texture, almost like a caramel chew candy. Honey dates have a mysterious molasses flavor reminiscent of roasted sweet potatoes. Deglet Noor is a less sweet date and has a nice nutty flavor. Zahidi dates taste about the same as Deglet Noor. Then there’s Barhi dates, which when ripe have a butterscotch flavor and are so soft they melt in your mouth.”
Though Bautista and other sellers at farmers markets carry a large assortment of date varieties, you’re most likely to encounter Medjool or Deglet Noor varieties in grocery stores. As such, the recipes here — created by recipe developer and food writer Christian Reynoso — reflect those choices. But if you happen to get ahold of some different varieties, try them out in these recipes, using the more sticky-sweet types — like Khadrawy or Honey — in place of the Medjools, and using the drier, less sweet types — like Zahidi or Halawy — in place of the Deglet Noors.
Beyond the fruit itself, dates come in other forms for adding their flavor to a dish. Date molasses or syrup tastes exactly like regular sugarcane-based molasses but with a less bitter edge. When the syrup is refined and granulated, it becomes date sugar, which can be used just like regular granulated cane sugar in most baking recipes.
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Date paste, a smooth puree of pitted dates, can often be found in stores or made at home easily (see note in Date and Lemon Bars With Sesame recipe). It’s a stalwart of paleo and vegan baking thanks to its richness and texture, which allow it to stand in as a replacement for butter, sugar and/or eggs, depending on how it is used. It’s also great as a shortcut in the Date, Banana and Almond Smoothie and the Date and Lemon Bars With Sesame.
But the most important cooking tip when it comes to cooking with dates is how to chop them without having your knife become a sticky, gooey mess. I spray my knife lightly with nonstick cooking spray to keep the sticky date pieces from gluing themselves to my knife or each other. Or you can brush an oil-soaked paper towel along the blade of the knife for the same effect.
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