Monday, November 9, 2009

Sublime Stuffed Dates

So I volunteered to bring dessert to a pot-luck I attended recently, but my oven went on the fritz. Having very little time, I wanted to come up with something show-stopping using only ingredients I had on-hand. In every crisis, lies an opportunity; for me, the silver lining is that my broken oven got me to try out ahead of schedule a book I just received called Raw for Dessert. Jennifer Cornbleet's book is filled with glorious photos of hot-looking goodies, but frankly, I've had a mental block about making anything out of it.

If you're unfamiliar with the raw food scene, raw foodists are vegetarians (vegans really) who eat primarily unprocessed, uncooked foods -- fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, and beans. They believe that cooking food destroys beneficial enzymes and therefore, don't employ traditional cooking and baking methods. Whatever you think of the diet's efficacy, preparing raw dishes has always struck me as very time-consuming: soaking nuts for hours, 'cooking' with dehydrators, and chopping into oblivion. I've enjoyed all the raw dishes I've sampled, mostly at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley and San Francisco, but it's easy to like because someone else has done all the work!

Good news! My first raw dessert took just minutes and was brilliant! Cornbleet's Greek dates taste like baklava encased in an exotic, sweet date shell. I couldn't stop eating them and neither could my friends. Theses are a no-brainer to make. In the food processor, pulse some nuts, agave syrup (see What is agave? below), and orange peel. Stuff generously into dates and refrigerate. Such bliss! For my money, it's the orange zest that makes this dish click.

What is agave? Agave is a desert plant whose sap is used in making tequila. It's also a wonderful sweetener that I've found to be interchangeable with honey and maple syrup. It's low on the glycemic index, which means it's a good choice for diabetics; what's more, it doesn't produce a sugar rush and subsequent crash. If you haven't tried agave, Madhava is a Colorado company that produces both the light (similar to honey) and amber (think maple syrup) varieties. While I haven't found agave in traditional supermarkets, I have gotten it at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

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