Why You Should Be Eating More Dates + A Cashew-Date Milk Recipe
I love dates; I eat them practically every day, but I think many folks don't seek out some of the more exciting varieties. I most often see dates eaten by hand or blended with ice cream, but they are highly versatile, offering a complex sweetness from which many dishes can benefit.
Of the foods people consume regularly, the date is one of the most ancient. It thrives in subtropical regions — the Middle East, North Africa, Southern California, parts of Asia — where the tree's beautiful palms provide much-needed shade.
Dates are sweet and soothing. They are good sources of niacin (B complex), iron, and potassium. They are also high in natural sugars, which makes them a good snack for busy days, arduous hikes, and long trips. Dates should be consumed in moderation by anyone struggling with high blood sugar or damp conditions (such as a yeast overgrowth or a sinus infection).
Fresh dates are classified by their degree of dehydration. I've tried to simplify the categories for cooking; they range greatly in moisture content but only slightly in flavor:
- Moist (for purées, batters, drinks, stuffing, and snacks): brown Barhi, medjool
- Soft (for all uses): yellow Barhi, Khadrawy, Amber
- Dry (for garnishes, relishes and chutneys, pies, and salads): Deglet
Refrigerating dates prevents fermentation and eases the work of chopping, so that's how I store them. Here are a few serving ideas (in addition to the recipe below) and techniques:
- Black coffee: a plate of dates and almonds
- Brown Barhis or medjools mashed and spread on warm buttered toast
- Brown Barhis or medjools mashed with almond butter, argan oil, and honey, then spread on warm buttered toast
- Ambers or Deglets diced as a garnish for porridge, rice pudding, or sweet polenta. Specifically, with oatmeal cooked in water with a good pinch of salt then left to rest for 10 minutes; topped with a spoonful of tahini, a spoonful of honey, several chopped dates, and toasted sesame seeds.
Cashew Milk With Fresh Dates, Banana + Oats
This thick, sweet drink invokes a childlike spirit. Think: slurping sounds, liquid mustaches, and sitting cross-legged on the kitchen countertop. It provides the simple joy of a milkshake with none of the sugar and cream.
Makes 2 to 3 servings
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight in water
- 3 cups filtered or spring water, cold
- 2 tablespoons rolled oats
- 9 medjool dates, pitted
- 2 frozen bananas
- Scant pinch of fine sea salt
1. Drain the cashews and add them to a high-speed blender; add the water. Blitz for a full minute or until the nuts are pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until thoroughly combined; thin with a tablespoon or two of cold water, if desired.
2. This beverage keeps for a day without any loss in flavor; simply refrigerate it in a sealed container (the blender works), and shake well before serving.
Michelle McKenzie is the program director and chef at 18 Reasons, a nonprofit community cooking school in San Francisco’s Mission District. She teaches cooking classes, curates the course calendar, and prepares the food for wine dinners and special events. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City, Michelle has worked at some of the best restaurants in the country, and has a knack for making simple food seem special—at once healthy and hedonistic, elegant and effortless—and is full of amazing tips for making every meal both memorable and attainable. She has been featured on the Cooking Channel, and has been a contributor to publications such as Sunset Magazine.