In Season West Coast: Dates

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Next to figs, dates might be one of the sexiest fruits there is. There's something sort of decadent about them. In fact, the Medjool date is considered the fruit of kings and have been found in earthenware pots in the tombs of pharaohs.

They are the oldest fruit cultivated by man and there are dozens of different varieties. Grown widely in the Middle East and North Africa, they have thrived in the United States, specifically in the Cochella Valley here in California, since the turn of the century when they were imported from Morocco in an attempt to save them from extiction from disease. The texture of dates can differ widley. This is because they grow in large bunches and the dates on the outside get more sunlight and, not surprisingly, more dried out. The ones deep in the heart of the bunch will be much more goey, almost. The Deglet Noor are at the dryer end of the spectrum, but are still quite flavorful and are pleasingly chewy. Honey dates taste just like what the name would imply. Halawys have a creamy caramel flavor and Khadrawy taste like brown sugar. However, most people consider the Medjool date to be the best. Large and plump, Medjools have a rich, sweet taste.

Although they are great to snack on just on their own, dates are often combined with walnuts and used in baking in things like breads, muffins, or dense cookie-like bars. Another common use for dates is in ice cream shakes. Last year for New Year's Eve I stuffed them with cheese, wrapped them in bacon, and roasted them in the oven. It's nice to make a compote or a relish with them to serve alongside chicken, fish or lamb or just toss in a spinach or mustard greens salad with some goat cheese or Manchego.

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