The Perfect Date

A Treat from the Middle East 
has a Love Affair with Arizona

As a state known for having the majority of its residents hail from somewhere else, it only makes sense that one of its most recognizable culinary staples, the Medjool Date, comes from afar as well.

Referenced in both the Bible and the Qur’an, dates are considered to be the oldest fruits cultivated by humans, going back over 6,000 years ago. Of the more than 3,000 varieties of dates, the Medjool is widely regarded as being among the most desirable, and has often been reserved for royalty, earning the nickname “The King of Fruits.”

Early in the 20th century, disease threatened the once-thriving crops, and in 1927, the United States sent Dr. Walter Swingle of the Department of Agriculture to help assess the situation. Dr. Swingle returned with a handful of offshoots from a single tree, and eventually released them to growers in the Coachella Valley, where they thrived.

By the 1930s, Medjool Dates were being grown in the Bard Valley, just across the Colorado River from Yuma. Eventually, the growing crossed over into Arizona, where many argue that cultivation of the Medjool has been perfected.

Though the popularity of the Medjool waned after World War II, its natural sweetness (which many compare to a perfect blend of caramel, honey and cinnamon), as well as its nutritional value, has allowed it to find a resurgence in recent years among a new generation of fans. They are a good source of fiber and contain high levels of potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese, and offer a flexibility in the kitchen that allow them to be a perfect ingredient for everything from baked goods and desserts to salads and stews.

Here are some date recipes to fall in love with:

Date-Sweetened Hazelnut Milk

Courtesy of Bianca Haun; 
ElephantasticVegan.com

Ingredients:

1 cup raw hazelnuts

2 cups water, or more for soaking

5 Medjool Dates

Directions:

  • Fill a bowl with hazelnuts and dates, then cover with water and soak overnight.
  • Drain water, rinse and place hazelnuts together with dates and 2 cups of fresh water in a high-speed blender. Blend for about 3-4 minutes until completely fine.
  • Place a nutmilk bag over a large glass or bowl and pour the liquid over a cloth. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Fill the hazelnut milk in an airtight glass jar and store in the fridge (1-2 days max) until you use it.

Medjool Date & Pear Praline Pie (raw, vegan, gluten-free)

Courtesy of Amie Sue Oldfather; 
NouveauRaw.com

Ingredients:

Yields 9” pie pan

Crust:

2 1/4 cups Tiger Nut flour

4 Tbsp water

3 Tbsp raw coconut butter, softened

3 Tbsp cold-pressed coconut oil, softened

3 Tbsp maple syrup or agave

1 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon

1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt

12 large Medjool dates, pitted and halved

Filling:

2 1/2 cups pear puree

1 1/2 Tbsp psyllium husks

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only

1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt

Topping (optional):

1/2 cup raw chopped pecans, soaked and dehydrated

1 Tbsp raw coconut crystals

Crust:

  • In a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, combine the Tiger Nut flour, water, coconut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt.
  • Process until dough starts to spin in a ball.
  • If using a pie pan that has a removable bottom, wrap the bottom piece with plastic wrap.  This will aid in the removal of the pie.
  • Press the dough into the base and sides of the pan.
  • Slide the pan into the dehydrator at 145 degrees (F) for 1 hour, then reduce to 115 degrees (F) and continue to dry for 4-6 hours.
  • Once done, slice and pit the dates, placing them on the sides and bottom of the crust.
  • Set aside.

Filling:

  • Place pears in the blender carafe and blend into a puree.
  • Add the pysllium, lemon juice, vanilla seeds and salt. Blend until well mixed.
  • Pour mixture into pie pan and spread evenly.
  • If you are ok with using nuts, place the pecans and coconut crystals in the food processor and pulse together.
  • Spread the mixture over the top of the pie and place in the fridge for 4 hours to chill and firm up a bit.
  • Keep well covered in the fridge for up to 
 3-4 days.