29 minutes ago
Monday, November 30, 2009
Dates. To me, they conjure up images of Arabian royalty dining upon these delicacies in their opulent palaces. I also hear the Aladdin merchant yelling, "Sugar dates and figs! Sugar dates and pistachios!" Yes, I watched that movie way too many times in my youth. The dates on the table in Raiders of the Lost Ark piqued my interest, although it saddened me when poisoned dates were responsible for the death of the cute little monkey spy... Anyway, dates have always been foreign to me, not something to which I was exposed as a child outside of television and movies.
Bottom line: I was missing out!
Dried dates are candy, plain and simple. They are an excellent substitute for sugar and retain its caramelization and candy-sweet properties. However, we can assume that with that sugary taste comes a nasty blood sugar spike. Or does it? The glycemic index value of dates is 103, higher than glucose set at 100. But that number has puzzled researchers due to dates having a high fiber content, which would lower their GI. Their glycemic load, which takes into account grams of carbohydrate minus water weight, was very high, too, at over 40, which makes sense given they are dried. But what does this mean? Well, to calculate these values, 50g of this carbohydrate were tested, which is actually about the quantity used in my recipe. Of course if you eat all 12 yourself in one sitting, your blood sugar will be higher than a kite! Duh! Another study tested other varieties of dates and found them to be low glycemic, so there is definitely some dispute going on. There is even some contention about whether or not the glycemic index is more important than dietary fiber quantity in food or if it is relevant to real life eating situations since the values were obtained 2 hours after eating the food and on a fasted stomach. Bottom line: it seems that dried fruit in moderation is fine and can be reaped for its nutritional benefits.
Medjool Dates used in my recipe are Moroccan in origin and were almost wiped out there due to a disease in the 1920s. Luckily, a portion of the healthy plants were transferred to the US and have been successfully cultivated here. Dates are perhaps the first cultivated tree crop dating back more than 5000 years. They have been a royal delicacy for much of their history. Dates are also nutritious. They have a good percentage of dietary fiber and have three times the potassium of bananas! Potassium is integral for maintaining blood pressure, healthy kidneys, and cellular functions. It is lost through perspiration and regained through your diet. They also have a variety of B-complex vitamins and are a good source of magnesium (used for bone development and metabolism).
Pecans, our second major ingredient, are native to the Americas. Pee cans or puh-cahns? As Emeril would say, pee cans are for truckers. They are chocked full of antioxidants--more than any other nut! One antioxidant in pecans, Vitamin E, is responsible for reducing the oxidation of blood lipids and, thus, helping to prevent coronary heart disease. Their antioxidants may also protect against cancer and Alzheimer's disease. More details can be found here and here. They are also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are heart healthy fat. They also have loads of vitamins and minerals.
So, here is a delicious, tasty, EASY treat to blast your taste buds. I was inspired by this recipe from Girl Gone Primal--love her site! Such brilliance to try something so simple! I made hers with the apricot and walnuts and wasn't overly impressed with the taste (even with roasted walnuts)--perhaps it was the different varieties of apricots or nuts across the continents or just my own weird taste buds. I knew the idea had potential and I know that so many people like hers, so I am just weird, but I tinkered with it to find the perfect combination of flavors at least for myself. I think I found it!
Pecan Fudge Truffles
Fudge, plain and simple and sugar-free (aside from those delicious-as-candy dates).
Makes: 12 bite-sized balls
Cooking Time: 30 minutes of preparation, tops, even accounting for cooling before assembly PLUS as long as your heart desires for freezing to get an ideal consistency. I like mine really frozen (a few hours), but they are certainly edible and just as tasty sooner.
Zone Blockage: You can be my guest to figure this one out. Exactly what size/variety is the "2 dates per block"? Can you even find pecans on the list? I would rather just enjoy them as a paleo-style treat!
1t vanilla extract
6-8 small Medjool dates or 4 jumbo/large, pitted and torn in half (2-3 ounces)
unsweetened shredded coconut (1/2c at least)
unsweetened cocoa powder (1/4c at least)
This is pretty darn simple. Toast your shredded coconut in a naked skilled over medium heat. It'll take a few minutes to get going, but once you start to see browning, stir often and keep an eye on it until you reach desired GB&D level (Golden Brown and Delicious, courtesy Alton Brown's Good Eats). Meanwhile, set your pecans on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven (I suggest toasting more than you need for inevitable future batches). Keep an eye on these as well since they love to burn and are already golden brown in color at the start. Even mild burning leaves this dessert with that burned nut flavor, so err on the side of caution! Let your toasted coconut and pecans cool before beginning the assembly process. Place the cocoa and toasted coconut in separate regular-sized or shallow bowls.
Assembly: (this is almost so easy, it is laughable) get out your food processor. Dump in the pecans, vanilla, and halved dates. Pulse to chop up the dates then let 'er whirl until the mixture begins to clump. This only takes a minute or so. Make sure your nuts are ground into tiny bits, and then remove the clumpy mixture from the processor onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Create little teaspoon-sized balls with your hands (roll in your palm) then plop 4 or so into your bowl of cocoa powder. Here is the magic method: instead of gunking up your sticky hands, swirl the bowl so that the balls roll around and coat themselves! Brilliant! Of course I figured this one out after many, many batches of club-hands. Then, remove the balls into the coconut bowl and repeat the process. You may want to get your hands involved to press on some coconut if it isn't sticking well. Remove from the coconut bowl and place on the sheet pan. Repeat the process with the remaining balls and leave room between them on the sheet pan. Whack 'em in the freezer until you cannot stand waiting any longer. Enjoy feasting upon their awesome fudgy deliciousness!
How can such a simple process create such amazing chocolately, coconuty fudge?!? And the best part: NO SUGAR (besides the dates, of course). How awesome is that? Are these worthy of your unenlightened brethren who might think your diet is insane? I think so!