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Dates: Kitchen Basics

Dates in dish
Khadrawy dates

Is there anything tastier than a date oatmeal cookie?

Well, perhaps, a Deglet Noor of Khadrawy date eaten out of hand. Or perhaps, a spinach, date, and orange salad with honey dressing. Or perhaps a date stuffed with cream cheese or Brie or with a mix of chopped apple and bacon.

You see, there are many ways to enjoy sweet, sticky dates. You can add them to roasting pork or chicken in the last 15 minutes of cooking or you can include them in holiday breads and cakes and puddings.

The date—the small, oblong fruit of the date palm tree–is intensely sweet. Its sugary concentration of flavor is akin to dried fruit. In fact, sometimes dates are dried, but usually you will find them most tasty fresh.

There are more than 100 varieties of dates. About 25 of those are found in markets. Each falls into one of three moisture and texture categories: soft, semidry, or dry.

Soft dates have a high moisture content, soft texture, and low sugar content. Popular soft dates varieties include: Medjool, Khadrawy, and Halawy.

Semi-dry dares have a moderate moisture content, firmer texture, and high sugar content. Best known varieties include Deglet Noor (which is perhaps the most popular date in the Untied States) and Zahidy. Both of these are very popular fruit gifts at Christmas time.

Dry dates, also known as bread dates, have the lowest moisture content and can be tough even hard textured. Dry dates contain the highest sugar content. The best known dry date variety is Thoory.

Most dates are oval shaped (some are chunky round) and are from 1 to 2½ inches long and about ¾ inches in diameter. Each has a single, long, narrow seed. Dates are green when unripe and turn to yellow then golden brown and then black or mahogany red as they ripen. Dates are usually picked green and ripened off the tree. As fresh dates dry their sugar content increases and intensifies. The skin becomes thin and papery as the date dries.

A date palm tree can grow to 100 feet tall and produce more than 1,000 dates each year. The date fruit hangs in bunches of more than 200 dates.

Local season. The peak season for dates is fall through spring, October through January in the northern hemisphere.

Choose. Select dates that are plump, soft, shiny, and well colored. Avoid dates that are shriveled dates or those with mold or sugar crystals on the skin. Avoid dates that are dull looking that appear dried out or moldy.

Amount. There are about 50 medium-sized dates in a pound.

Store. Fresh dates will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Wrap dates so that they do not absorb the odor of other foods.

Dried dates will keep in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months and up to a year in the refrigerator.

Freeze. Dates can be frozen in an airtight plastic bag or freezer container for up to 5 years.

Prepare. Slice lengthwise, pull back flesh, and remove the pit.

Snip into small pieces with kitchen scissors.

You can chop or snip dates into small pieces by hand with a knife or kitchen scissors. Be sure to rinse the knife or scissors frequently with cold water to prevent sticking or dust the blades with flour.

Dried dates can be rehydrated by soaking them in water for a few hours.

Cook. Chopped or snipped dates can be substituted for raisins in recipes. Use dates in breads, cookies and puddings. Add whole, pitted dates to the pan with pork, chicken, or duck during the last 15 minutes of roasting or use them in stuffings.

Serve:

  • Eat soft or semi-dry dates out of hand.
  • Used chopped dates in breads, cakes, cookies, date squares, and muffins.
  • Use dates in chutneys and curries.
  • Stuff pitted dates with cream cheese mixed with marmalade or almond paste.
  • Add chopped dates to curried chicken salad.
  • Sprinkle chopped dates on hot cereal.
  • Add date halves to spinach, chicken, tuna, or smoked meat salads.
  • Wrap with bacon or stuff with sausage and broil.
  • Use chopped dates to sweeten stuffings, cooked cereals, and fruit salads.

Flavor partners. Dates have a flavor affinity for almonds, brown sugar, chocolate, coconut, cream cheese, honey, orange, pistachios, and walnuts.

Nutrition. Dates are high in potassium, iron, and niacin. The average date contains about 25 calories.

Dates facts and trivia. Dates flourish in desert climates, especially in North Africa and the Middle East. Dates are native to Mesopotamia where they have been in cultivation for more than 2,000 years. From the Middle East dates spread across the Sahara Desert. The Moors from Arabia brought dates from North Africa to Spain in the fourteenth century. Later, the Spanish brought date palms to the New World. Most dates grown in the United States are grown in the dry Coachella Valley of California.

The word date refers to the shape of the fruit and comes from the Greek word daktulos which means “finger”.

The botanical name for the date palm tree is Phoenix dactylifera.

 

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