5fba725ad7a3d8dd50e9dbb18c7dd22e-2“Cut down on all the whites in your diet,” my family doctor advised me on my last physical check-up. That meant eating less of white rice, white bread, and white sugar. Since I love salads and beans, it was easy to eat smaller portions of rice and bread, and larger proportions of veggies and dals, but not indulging my sweet tooth was pure torture. I had to find a solution for this sweet deprivation.

I discovered that dates are a perfect way to satisfy your sweet urge without feeling guilty. With only 24 calories per date (248 per 100-gram serving), dates are high in dietary fiber and carbohydrates, and contain more potassium than bananas! They also provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as B-complex vitamins, magnesium, and iron. Yet they are virtually fat-, cholesterol-, and sodium-free. Dates are loaded with the energy you need every day to run a marathon or get you through a tough day.

There are many varieties of dates available in the market. Each has its own distinctive taste, texture, sweetness, and size.
Two popular varieties are Medjool and Deglet Noor.

The Medjool is called the King of Dates. Large, perfect, and beautiful, Medjools have a rich mahogany color and a soft texture. It is a true connoisseur’s date for gift-giving and personal enjoyment. The Deglet Noor is a medium firm date with a rich caramel color, not as sweet as the soft dates. It stores very well and is as good for cooking as it is for eating.

The date palm is known to be one of the world’s oldest fruit trees. Date palms are said to thrive with their “feet in water and heads in the sun” because they need plenty of ground water, but high heat and arid weather to produce fruit. Therefore, date palms produce fruit only in the world’s hot, arid climates. Dates can be grown in only a few places in the United States. Coachella Valley in Southern California has the ideal environment for growing dates.

Due to their natural sugars, dates are perfect for desserts and baked goods. My friend adds dates to chocolate-chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, brownies, rice pudding, and pound cake. The natural sweetness in dates minimizes the white sugar that is called for in the original recipe.

Rich in flavor, dates can be that subtle “secret ingredient” that brings out the best in any prized dish. Dates complement many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and rice, and pair with seafood and meats for surprising combinations.

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DATE ROLL

These rolls are an excellent way to include dates and nuts into your daily diet. Making this roll is a great workout for your arms too!

The original recipe called for a lot of ghee. But it tastes great without the added fat too.

30-35 pitted dates
20 pistachio nuts (toasted and unsalted)
5-6 cardamom pods

Chop dates and place in a thick-bottomed pan. Heat the pan and keep stirring till the dates melt into a ball. (It takes 20 to 25 minutes.)

Add nuts and cardamom powder and mix well.

Cool and roll with the help of a greased aluminum foil into 2-inch diameter rolls.

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Last week we had a block party on our street. We had a wide array of international food. I had prepared a lentil and rice dish. My neighbor Soheila commented that in Iran they make a similar dish but with the addition of dates and cinnamon. Here is her recipe that is delicious and nutritious, and definitely satisfies my sweet tooth.

Soheila’s Addas Polo

1 cup basmati rice
¾ cup brown lentils
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dates chopped
1 potato, sliced very thin
almonds, raisins, and dates for garnish

Rinse the rice several times in warm water to remove the surface starch. Then soak overnight in lots of cold water, in the refrigerator. Drain the rice and set aside.
Bring five cups of water to a rapid boil. Then add the rice and lentils. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking together. Drain the rice and lentils. Then mix in the dates and cinnamon sticks.

Spread the oil evenly on the bottom of the pot. Then cover with one layer of sliced potatoes. Sprinkle the rice mixture over the potatoes. It should be heaped in the middle and not touch the sides of the pot. Cover the underside of the pot lid with a clean dishtowel, and place the lid tightly on the pot. The towel absorbs extra moisture which would otherwise drip back onto the rice and make it soggy.

Cook the rice mixture for 10 minutes over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to allow the rice to steam for another 40 minutes. The heat can then be turned down very low to keep the rice warm before serving.

When ready to serve, level the rice and invert the pot over a large serving dish. The polo (rice mixture) is then served upside down, with a golden potato crust (tahdig) on top. Garnish with chopped almonds, raisins, and dates.

Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.

www.massala.com

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