If it is hollow (or if it only has a dent), stuff it: chickens, peppers, turkeys, whole fish, mushroom caps. If it isn’t hollow, empty it out; then stuff it: tomatoes, potatoes, squash, clams. So it goes. Dates have a big pit; remove the pit, and what do you have? A candidate for stuffing.
We had a great discussion about stuffed dates recently at the Blue Hill Library during Brooke Dojny’s Down East Colloquy called “Chowders, Baked Beans, and Blueberry Pie: A historical and contemporary look at setting the Maine table.” Brooke assembled an interesting and curious group of people, which included readers of this very column, to explore Maine food, and she asked me to come and speak, too. We got onto the topic of dates via a date-nut bread which Brooke served, made from a recipe in my new book, Maine Home Cooking, and Castine food writer Harry Kaisarian said he liked to stuff dates with a mixture of cream cheese and chopped crystallized ginger. That got us started.
I remember my mom stuffing dates with a piece of walnut or pecan, then rolling them in coconut. That was a Christmas treat, which, at the time I did not particularly enjoy, and I suspect Mom, who loved them, made them as much for herself as anyone else. A nut-stuffed date is good rolled in sugar, too. These would be confections, in my book.
For the more savory side, as an appetizer, dates stuffed with a soft cheese plus a garnish of a nut or some other tidbit is pretty tasty. I used smoked almonds in mine; very good. Someone suggested peanut butter stuffed dates, and is that ever delicious! Blue cheese like gorgonzola works with or without a nut. Garnish with a bit of parsley or chopped chives. Wrap bacon around the date after you stuff it and bake it until the bacon is crisp. Or chop the bacon up and add it to the peanut butter.
I used Medjool dates, which I found in the bulk food section of the supermarket. Compared with a lot of what we can eat, dates are reasonably wholesome. They have a bunch of minerals and make manganese, copper, potassium, magnesium, and calcium taste pretty good. Decent fiber content and low sodium are the upside; carbohydrates are the downside. They have zero fat until you add cheese or peanut butter. Apparently one pitted date weighing twenty-four grams has sixty-six calories, so it isn’t like you can eat a half dozen with impunity, and with peanut butter or cream cheese added, believe me, you will want to.
P.S. Reader LeonNa Gilbert passed along a great idea after reading about smoked paprika in last week’s chicken paprikash recipe. She adds smoked paprika to roasted potatoes! Yum. And Julia Hathaway in Veazie thinks she might substitute veggie burger for chicken in the paprikash recipe for the vegetarians in her household. Why not.
Savory Stuffed Dates
Whole Medjool dates
Your choice of
Your choice of
Crystallized ginger, chopped finely
Your choice of garnish
Alfalfa, pea, or other sprouts
Slice the date lengthwise and remove the pitted. Fill the space with your filling of choice, add cooked bacon, chopped ginger either mixed into the cheese or added as garnish, or nuts.
If you wish, wrap a half slice of bacon around the date, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes at 375 degrees until the bacon is crisp. You may want to brush a little maple syrup on the bacon wrapped date before baking.
Makes a variable number of servings.