I bought an entire pound of fresh (!) dates at the market square to use in my Moroccan carrot and chickpea salad. The salad only calls for 1/3 cup of dried dates, which I elected to interpret as 1/2 cup fresh dates because of the reduced sweetness, but that left me with a few extras (even though I’ve been snacking on them the last few days). I remembered this recipe from the wonderful Inn at the Crossroads and decided to give it a try with fresh dates and walnuts instead of dried dates and hazelnuts/chestnuts. From their quoted recipe (Apicius, I believe), it seems like fresh dates are more in the spirit of the original anyway; you would probably make this not only as a sweet treat, but as a way to preserve the fruit. Since I have a fridge to preserve things, and I didn’t feel like using up all of my honey, I just drizzled some over the stuffed dates and put them in the fridge for a day for the flavors to meld.
And hey, they turned out to be pretty good. They’re sweet but not sickening, a little bit spicy from the cinnamon and pepper, and just the right thing as a light finish to a Mediterranean meal. They’d be good with dried dates as well, though I’d stick to the low-sugar version for fear of things getting a little too sweet. I think the ideal would probably be to use fresh dates and the traditional “preserving in honey” method of preparation, just to make sure that honey seeps into all the cracks between nuts and you don’t have any pockets of dry spices, but it’s a matter of taste.
Roman Stuffed Dates
Adapted from Inn at the Crossroads.
Fresh or dried dates
Finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts…)
Cinnamon and long (or black) pepper, 1/2 tsp each per 1/2 c nuts
Honey to cover or drizzle (if drizzling, ~1/2 tsp per date)
Jar for storage
Salt for serving (optional)
Pit your dates by slicing lengthwise and removing the seed. Mix chopped nuts and spices in a small bowl. Carefully stuff this mixture into dates; they should be full, but overstuffed dates will tear open. (This is more important if you’re doing the traditional method of preparation below; feel free to overstuff the dates if you’re doing the other method.)
“Traditional” method: Place the stuffed dates in a jar, cut-side up so that the nuts don’t spill out. Continue until the jar is full. Pour honey over the stuffed dates until all the crevices are filled. Let sit at least a day before eating. (The honey should preserve the dates, but if you’re worried about it, keep in the fridge and let come to room temperature before eating.)
“Low sugar” method: Generously drizzle a honey over the stuffed slit of each date after stuffing and place it in a jar/tupperware (or on a plate for immediate consumption). Repeat until all the dates are used. (Alternatively: mix honey with spice-covered nuts and then stuff into dates. This is messier, but prevents dry spots on the inside of the dates.) Cover and store in the fridge at least one day. Allow to come to room temperature before eating.
Serving suggestion: on their own or as a topping to Greek yogurt. Optionally (to be more faithful to the Roman recipe, below), sprinkle with a little sea salt before serving.
DULCIA DOMESTICA: LITTLE HOME CONFECTIONS (WHICH ARE CALLED DULCIARIA) ARE MADE THUS: LITTLE PALMS OR (AS THEY ARE ORDINARILY CALLED) DATES ARE STUFFED—AFTER THE SEEDS HAVE BEEN REMOVED—WITH A NUT OR WITH NUTS AND GROUND PEPPER, SPRINKLED WITH SALT ON THE OUTSIDE AND ARE CANDIED IN HONEY AND SERVED.