Fancy a hot date tonight? Here's how to embrace nature's fruity sweetener in loads of different ways
Describe your ideal date. Sweet, wholesome, and pretty good for you? Yes. Us too!
Along with their pals agave nectar and coconut sugar, dates are becoming increasingly popular to sweeten and flavour cakes, smoothies and desserts. They're also delicious in savoury dishes like stews and tagines, as well as a stellar way to bulk out your breakfast.
Dates are for life, not just for Christmas. So liberate them from their little polystyrene trays and let them achieve their full potential. Here's how to eat dates in eight different ways …
(Probably not all on the same day, mind.)
1. As syrup
As treacly as treacle but far more acceptable on your breakfast, date syrup is popular across the Middle East and can be used anywhere you might normally drizzle honey.
Pick it up in your local health food store, or score bonus smug points for making your own. Oh Lady Cakes has a great recipe.
2. In a smoothie
For a triple whammy of sweetness, texture and fibre in your morning cocktail, throw in a couple of dates.
They taste especially great with oats and bananas in homage to a blitzed-up bowl of museli – try this banana, oat and date smoothie from Poppytalk, or branch out with this creation from Oh She Glows, featuring dates, cinnamon and that classic breakfast fruit … er, butternut squash.
3. In a pud
Dates have been bulking out puddings since the good old days when 'clean eating' meant washing your carrots before you chopped them. Dates are added to lots of classic British sponges and suet puddings, including everyone's favourite sauce-vehicle: sticky toffee pudding.
These date and toffee puddings with caramelised bananas from Tom Kerridge feature an extra portion of fruit along with butter, sugar, treacle, flour and double cream. Hey, we never said dates were always virtuous.
4. In a stew
Dates are a staple in Middle Eastern tagines and stews, where all that slow-cooking restores them to their plump and succulent former glory.
Try a meaty plateful like this lamb and date tagine with red onion and pomegranate from Dine at Mine, or go veggie with Dirty Gourmet's campfire-ready date and chickpea stew.
5. In a salad
Everyone knows that if a salad wants a promotion from side dish to main event, it needs to contain something more substantial than just leaves.
Dates work in every salad you could imagine a raisin sneaking into, but they bring a more intriguing texture and flavour. Try them alongside nuts, grains and pulses for a proper jaw workout, and pair them with Middle Eastern flavours like lemon, cinnamon and mint.
This bulgur, broad beans and dates salad with griddled broccoli recipe from Sainsbury's magazine is so good you'll want to marry it (send us a save the date).
6. As a nibble
Stuffed dates are a pretty feature on mezze plates, and they make fantastically filling canapés for a party, too.
Try stuffing dates with goats' cheese, pistachios and pomegranate, and have fun asking every single person in the room if they'd like a date. Never not hilarious.
7. In a raw energy bar
Raw snack bars are doing great things for date employment rates these days, and they've inspired health food fiends to make their own versions, too.
These chocolate fudge brownie energy bars by Health Inspirations are made from just dates, raisins, cashews and cocoa smooshed together – which isn't quite a raw brownie, true, but then you can't put a bowl of batter in your handbag.
8. As fruity glue
Sticky dates don't just taste good, they have adhesive properties – which is why they work so well in raw dishes to bind nuts and other ingredients together into something that resembles a snack.
For a truly ace base, forget buttery biscuit and sneak some dates into the mix instead, as per this Honestly Healthy raw chocolate cheesecake.