Dates can be hard. They are a mystery to many and can be really difficult to find sometimes. And, when you do finally encounter one, they can be rather intimidating. To top it off, sometimes they’re just so cheesy that it’s simply not worth the trouble and stress.
Well, consider this post the OK Cupid for dates. The fruit kind.
There are a lot of different kinds of dates–more than 100–but by far the most common in the US are Deglet Noor and Medjool. I strongly prefer the Medjool dates, which are usually a little larger and sweeter than the Deglet Noor variety, both important qualities when stuffing and roasting (my favorite).
Dates have pits, and getting them out can be a very daunting task. In fact, it can be so difficult that you often see them sliced in half and stuffed that way in an understandable effort at simplification. When I was experimenting with this recipe, I labored for quite a while to find the right tool to pit the dates. It’s been so long now that I can’t even remember all the things I tried, but when you see what I ultimately landed on, you’ll know it was a lot of things.
This happened totally by trial and error, and there was lots of error, but I found the perfect instrument for easily extracting the pits and leaving a wonderful hollow center to accept your stuffing – a cuticle trimmer. Yes, you read that correctly, a cuticle trimmer. It slides right into the stem end of the date, is sharp enough to snag the pit and pulls it easily out of the date. A painful and frustrating process that could take quite a long time now is easy as pie and takes only a few minutes.
Now that they’re pitted, what are you going to do with them? You could eat these dates just plain, but I like to stuff and roast them. The roasting deepens the wonderful warm sweetness of the dates and if you can find a stuffing that compliments their flavor, its a terrific combination and a wonderful way to start a meal.
This recipe is my version of Komi’s absolutely unbelievably good roasted and stuffed dates. We love Komi. We kind of feel a special sense of pride in its incredible success because it really is our neighborhood restaurant, literally just a half a block down the street from our old apartment. And from our first visit there, I became totally obsessed with these dates. They had the subtle complexity of sweetness and tang inside the warmth of the roasted fruit. It was hard to believe that something so small and looked so simple could be so good.
Knowing the Greek inspiration for Komi, I had a pretty good idea that the tang was supplied by Greek yogurt. The structure of the stuffing had to be something like mascarpone or cream cheese – and after one try it was clear it was the mascarpone. And I added a little bit of extra sweetness with some honey. That’s really all it is. The ratios of the ingredients are really a matter of personal taste. Roast them in an oven or toaster oven for about ten minutes, drizzle some good extra virgin olive oil on them, top with some sea salt, and you’ve got an explosion of flavor in a neat little package.
Do your own experimenting with this but remember you need these three things: enough body to keep the stuffing from melting and oozing out (which is provided by the mascarpone); a little tang that comes from the Greek yogurt; and a bit of sweetness from the honey. Keep in mind that the dates themselves are sweet and that will intensify as they roast, so definitely don’t overdo the honey. What makes this recipe so great is the subtle combination of the flavors – too sweet or too tangy and it won’t work – and the sprinkle of salt gives it that extra boost.
- 24 Medjool dates
- 6 oz Greek yogurt
- 6 oz mascarpone cheese
- honey to taste
- good olive oil
- sea salt
1. Pit the dates by inserting a cuticle trimmer at the stem end, grab the pit, and pull out smoothly. Take the handle of a spoon (or other piece of silverware), insert it into the cavity and gently enlarge the space to receive the filling. Set aside while you assemble the stuffing.
2. Preheat oven or toaster over to 350. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt and cheese. Drizzle in honey one teaspoon at a time, stirring to incorporate, and tasting until you reach desired sweetness (we typically use up to two teaspoons). Refrigerate mixture while preparing the piping bag.
3. Place plastic piping bag in a pint glass, tip end down. (You can use a plastic sandwich bag if you don’t have piping bags, but it is really sooooo much easier to get the stuffing into the dates with the firmer piping bags.) Place about a cup of the cheese mixture into the pipping bag and remove from pint glass. Snip off the tip of bag, ensuring that the opening is small enough to fit into the cavity you’ve made in the dates.
4. Stuff the dates. Insert the tip of the piping bag as far into the date as possible, and inject the filling, making sure to fill the entire opening as much as possible. (When first getting the hang of this, it’s a good idea to practice by placing a date on a plate, lining up the piping bag next to the date, and pushing out enough stuffing to fill the cavity so you can see how much it is and how long to push. When I first started, I had many a poorly-filled date with just a little stuffing around the opening that all basically oozed out when they roasted.) Wipe any excess filling from around the opening and, with the same stem end of a spoon, gently push the edges of the opening towards the center. It will not close completely, but it will help keep your stuffing in the date.
5. Place the stuffed dates on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet, and place on the middle rack and roast for about ten minutes. When done, the dates should be just slightly browned and the filling should be slightly dripping out of the opening.
6. Arrange the dates on a serving plate, drizzle with the olive oil (warmed, if you like), sprinkle with the sea salt, and serve.