Saturday, August 6, 2011

How About A Date With A Date?

If the date growers didn't cover their fruit,
nobody but the birds would ever know how
great they taste.
Legend claims that God created the date palm from the clay still stuck to His hands following the creation of Adam. While scholars claim there is little proof that apple trees ever grew in the Garden of Eden, there is ample evidence that date palms spanned biblical history for their fruit has been found in the tombs of early Egyptians.

They are one of the oldest fruits known to man. In the Middle East, land of their origin, dates have long been a staple food, a "bread of the desert" that has sustained millions who had little else to eat. And while a diet of dates is certainly not recommended, it is claimed that many Mid-Easterners have lived as long as six months solely on dates and milk--and remained in good health while doing so.

Despite being high in calories and low in protein, nutritionists consider dates a valuable food. The slender spheres are a rich source of iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and copper as well as Vitamins A, B1, D, and C. They are low in sodium and fat, high in roughage, easily digested, and contain abundant invert sugars that satisfy the sweet tooth while supplying quick energy in a natural and healthful way.

There are more than 100 kinds of dates, though generally only two classifications: bread dates and soft dates. The bread dates can withstand more handling and are usually what's available at the grocery store. The soft dates are so fragile they are seldom shipped long distances, though as luck would have it, they are also the most delectable--a naturally sweet treat that sets the mouth watering and the eyes rolling heavenward.

Most people prefer their dates mixed in cakes, cookies, breads, shakes, or stuffed with nuts and rolled in coconut. True aficionados often make a yearly trek to Indio, California--the nation's date capital. The best time to go is during the mid-February Date Festival. Our family attended the festival for many years in a row, hauling our trailer with us and staying over in an adjacent football field allotted towards visitor parking. We always made it a two-day event simply because there was so much to see and do, let alone all those dates to sample.

My family's favorites have always been the Medjool and Barhee and Zahidi, with the Medjool coming in right at the top. The soft dates are easily found in Southern California because we are so close to the growing fields and I have to say that having to use the traditional grocery store dates after tasting what I know a date can really be, is a choice I use grudgingly. And while the kids and grandkids are now all grown and my husband has passed on, I no longer trek to the desert for my soft dates. I just buy them at my local Farmer's Market and stock up while they last because I know that once May or June rolls around, they'll all be gone and I'll have to use the boxed ones from the grocery store--as I did in the following recipe. Any way I look at it, I figure this ancient bread of the desert is good for my vegan body--regardless of what name it has.


1 package pre-washed baby spinach or arugula
1 large can of mandarin oranges (save the juice)
1 cup of chopped dates
1/2 cup of roasted sunflower seeds

My sunflower seeds were unroasted and unsalted. I put them in a dry pan on the stove top, sprinkled a bit of salt on them and let them roast about 5 minutes with the heat on low-medium. Your nose will tell you when they're done. Do not let them burn or you'll have to start over.

Put one bag of pre-washed baby spinach into a large bowl. Toss in the drained mandarin oranges and dates. Reserve the sunflower seeds until the salad is dressed. Then toss them in and mix everything together.

For the dressing:

1 cup olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

This recipe makes a double batch. You can use a food processor or a whisk. I simply used a whisk. Didn't feel like dragging the FP out of its cupboard. Lazy today.

Medjools have quickly become the date of choice for date lovers. They are the largest of the readily-available fruits, often quite plump and as long as a small woman's little finger. They are gooey and caramelly, tasting more like a forbidden treat than something that's good for our bodies.

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