Raw Date Cookies

This week’s featured ingredient is nature’s gummy vitamin:  Barhi Dates!

Dates are believed to have originated in the Middle East.

They have been a traditional staple food in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, the Sudan, Arabia and Iran.   In Islamic culture, dates and yogurt or milk are traditionally the first foods consumed for Iftar after the sun has set during Ramadan.  1
Today they are also cultivated in the deserts of the US, including Indio, California,  just an hour’s drive from my home in Joshua Tree!
In the Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad is quoted as saying, “He who eats seven dates every morning, will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them.”   2
Its name comes from the Ancient Greek word for fingerdáktulos, because of the fruit’s elongated shape.
There are three main groups of dates: soft (e.g. ‘Barhi’, ‘Halawy’, ‘Khadrawy’, ‘Medjool’), semi-dry (e.g. ‘Dayri’, ‘Deglet Noor’, ‘Zahdi’), and dry (e.g. ‘Thoory’).
Dates ripen in four stageskimri (unripe), khalal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
Barhi dates have a soft, almost caramel-like texture and flavor, especially in the rutab stage.  They are one of the few varieties that are also enjoyed in the halal stage, when they are yellow and crunchy, and taste like a cross between a persimmon and an apple.  They ripen during the Summer (see photos below).
Dates are used in a variety of ways around the world.  They are pitted and stuffed with fillings such as nuts, candied orange peel, marzipan or cream cheese.  Dates are also used in puddings, cakes, milk shakes, and savory dishes.  Dates can be processed into syrups, powders or “sugars,” and more recently sparkling date juice.
The fruit and its syrup are claimed to have many medicinal qualities, including easing tummy troubles, and soothing a sore throat.  3
Dates provide a wide range of essential nutrients, such as potassium, boron, cobalt, copper, fluorine, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc, as well as sugars and fiber.  4

A Visit to Shields’ Date Garden

Indio, California, home of the National Date Festival, is just an hour  from my home in Joshua Tree.  Barhi dates are now in season, so my husband, Patrick and I jumped in the car and drove down to Shields’ Date Garden to enjoy the harvest.
Floyd and Bess Shields came to the California desert in 1924 and started Shields Date Garden, a date grove with a gift shop, cafe, and “theater” showing a film about date cultivation and nutrition.  5
The Shields’ Date Tree Grove (note the ladders hanging from the trunks):
So many dates to sample!
The three delicious stages of Barhi dates:
Patrick tastes a Yellow Barhi:
This week’s recipe is for Raw Date Cookies.  Kids love making and eating these wholesome cookies.  Barhi dates have a distinctive caramel flavor, and smooth texture.  See Reference section below for mail order suppliers.  Or, just substitute another more widely available delicious soft date: Medjools.  One can substitute one’s favorite nut butter and sweet spice as well.
Variation: Enrobe cookies in melted chocolate or ganache.

Raw Date Cookies

Preparation Time:  15 minutes

Yield:  25-30 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup oat bran or quick oats, plus a little extra for “dusting”
1 cup almond butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1/2-3/4 cup barhi dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
toppings, such as nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate
Equipment:
bowl
measuring cups
measuring spoons
spoon or hands

Instructions:
1.  Stir together oat bran, almond butter, cinnamon, and salt.

2.  Stir in date chunks, leaving chunks of date in the dough.
3.  Form into bite-sized balls.
4.  Roll balls in a little oat bran.
5.  Decorate with favorite toppings, or enrobe in melted chocolate.  Enjoy!
Cookies can be stored in the refrigerator/freezer in air-tight container for up to 2 months.
References:
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