This week’s “Ingredient of the Week” will be dates, a relatively new favorite.

Up until last summer, I had never eaten a date. I’m totally serious! They were always the creepy-looking thing lurking in otherwise familiar dried-fruit-and-nut platters. They always reminded me of bugs. I guess we just never had them around the house when I was growing up. While I’m sure I’d tasted them before, I was just never formally introduced.

Until I went to Italy, where I encountered the gorgeous dried fruit displays at the markets in Florence. dsc02161 - Ingredient of the Week: Dates

Because we were all desperate for dietary fiber, dried fruit was a crowd favorite. My classmates were raving about the dates in particular. When I mentioned that I’d never actually tried one, I was handed a few and told, “Jess, seriously.”

Oh dear—it was love at first bite! Since then, I’ve been keeping dates on hand finding all kinds of things to use them in—date balls, bars, oats, chopped up on cereal or yogurt, and I can’t wait to try them in these fruit tarts. They’re also great on their own, eaten as a pre-workout bite in the a.m.

Another fun idea is to dip them in chocolate or to stuff them with cream cheese or blue cheese for a fancy appetizer.

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Bacon-wrapped stuffed figs at Toro in Boston

You usually see pitted dried dates for sale (whole or pre-chopped). At around 25 calories per date, they’re loaded with fiber, potassium, B-vitamins, magnesium, and iron and are a great source of carbohydrates. A serving is usually about 5 or 6 dates, depending on the size.

For such a simple food, I’m always impressed by the new and weird-good ways you can use dates in recipes.

What are your favorite date recipes? 

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