Raiding the larder of ideas.

What one family eats, plans to eat, dreams of eating. Plus, other food and kitchen-related stuff from the home of steak-and-potatoes, pie and fresh green beans from the garden.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Date to the Ball: a Little Sweet, a Little Spicy, and a Little Nutty Date Balls

It's a date!

Long years ago, when I was still in pigtails (well, not literally. The Bat cut my hair short in first grade so she didn't have to fight the tangles my feral conduct created. But I digress), I took a home economics class. We all did. It was part of the mandatory education program for all young ladies, that, while we were learning to be good future wives by accepting training in sewing, cooking, and cleaning (ecch!), the boys took shop classes. For two short weeks, though, we switched around, so the boy had a clue what was supposed to go on in the kitchen, and we girls got to use a bandsaw, grinder, and buffer to make cheesy plastic jewelry.

It was during this brief interstice that I was introduced to…no, not the Love of Lucite, but The Date. The seventh grade boys got to make a non-sugary candy made from dates and coconut, and then they were encouraged to share their efforts with us guuurrrulls. I got my first and only date ever with the cute boy whose birthday I shared.

I was smitten.

With the food.

(Although, I admit, the boy was nothing to sneeze at. I saw him at our class reunion not too long ago, and he's still tall and handsome. But, again, I digress.)

This is about the medjool variety of dates, not the steady variety.

The delight in this recipe was that the boys did not need to heat up any stovetops, there was no risk that they'd set a pan of sugar on fire and fill the school with smoke. The other blessing was, it was, we were told later, good for us. There was no added sugar, and plenty of nuts, so we got protein and roughage all in a tasty little lump. (Egad! but our home economics teacher was a sly one!)

Well, I finally ran across a variation on that old recipe, after seeing dozens – if not hundreds – of versions requiring loads of sugar and/or corn syrup and boiling and processing half to putty, and decided it was time for me to give the simple recipe a whirl for myself.

And it is amazingly uncomplicated. It's pretty much equal parts dates and nuts, and a little bit of cardamom. And, if you like, a little unsweetened, finely shredded coconut.

The necessities
It does call for a good, sturdy food processor (those little mini ones just won't cut it), or a serious grinder and a good nut-chopper, and then, beyond that, it's just a matter of patience shaping the little balls and rolling them in their coating. I used a 1-inch scoop to help with keeping the balls all the same size, but if you don't have one of those, you can scoop the "dough" with your fingertips and shape just as easily.

Seriously. The shaping thing, you can let tots do.

So give these a try, sometime.

Super-Easy Date-Nut Balls*

2 cups pistachios without shells (salted ones are acceptable), divided
2 8-ounce packages whole medjool dates, pitted
1/2 teaspoon (or less, depending on your tastes) cardamom
4 Tablespoons finely chopped unsweetened coconut (optional)


Place the pistachios in the food processor with basic chopping blade, and pulse for several seconds, then continue to run on low speed until the nuts are finely chopped. Remove from bowl, set aside.

Beginning with a half bag of dates, chop coarsely at low speed, adding a few more dates at a time, until you have created a sticky ball of date. Pulse in the cardamom and 1 1/2 cups chopped pistachios.

Continue to pulse until well-mixed. It should be loosely combined to resemble – dare I say it? – cat kibble (pellets about 3 mm in diameter at the largest). If you want it to be pureed, I suppose you can keep going, but I like to get a little burst of flavor and faint crunch in each bite, so I stop before it's gluey. Besides, you're likely to need to add water to the mixture if you want to get it pureed any more than this, and that means letting the balls dry out longer before they're ready to eat, and…waiting is not my strong point. Is it yours? No? So, let it appear crumbly.
Sorry about the photo quality. Kibble reference notwithstanding, this is moist and crumbly

Place your remaining 1/2 cup of finely chopped pistachios in a small bowl, and your coconut in another bowl nearby.

Take the blade out of the processor bowl and, using a scoop, a spoon, or just your fingertips, begin forming the dough into little 1-inch balls, rolling each one in either the pistachio crumbs or the coconut. Place on a tray and allow to dry a little bit before covering (about 20-30 minutes)

Makes about 60 1-inch balls.

*Yes, I know exactly how naughty that can sound. You have a dirty mind, and I appreciate that.

Update: The Bat is not a big fan of dates, but she approves this recipe – "It's not sickly-sweet!" was her shocked response when I forced her to sample one, this evening. High praise, from her!

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