If there’s one thing we’re told to eat more of, it’s fiber. From encouraging proper intestinal function to helping control cholesterol levels, fiber is a must-have in everyone’s diet that is often lacking.
Enter the humble date. Cultivated in the Middle East and North Africa for thousands of years, dates supply abundant fiber as well as minerals, vitamins A and K, the B-vitamin complex and various beneficial phytonutrients. And their natural sweetness, enjoyed in prudent amounts, can help stave off cravings for low-nutrient sweets.
Dozens of date cultivars are grown in the fruit’s native lands. Among the varieties most commonly available in the US are the large, meaty Medjool; the softer, spicier Amir Hajj; the drier, more delicately flavored Deglet Noor; and the yellow-tipped Empress.
Available in fresh form during the fall, most dates in this country are sold as dried fruit. In either case look for plump specimens with intact skins; avoid any that show hardened sugar crystals. Refrigerate fresh dates in a tightly sealed container, especially since they are prone to picking up odors from other foods. Dried dates will keep for about a month in the pantry and up to a year in the fridge.
Dates can be plumped in warm water or, for extra flavor, in fruit juice or liqueur. The larger types are perfect for stuffing with nuts, crystallized ginger, candied citrus peel or cream cheese. Sliced dates add chewy sweetness to salads, pilafs and baked goods.
Need more fiber? Dates can make that a tasty proposition.
Medjool Date & Nut Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin (1 lb)
salt and pepper
14 spinach leaves, stemmed & cleaned
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 apple, cored & diced
2 oz chopped pistachios
4 tbsp dry sherry
2 fresh thyme leaves, chopped (1/2 tsp dried)
12 Medjool dates, pitted & diced
5 slices prosciutto
6 whole Medjool dates
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut pork lengthways, being careful to cut only 2/3 of the way through. Place between two layers of plastic wrap and pound until thin and flat. Season with salt and pepper, and line the inside with spinach leaves.
2. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat and sauté onions until tender, about 5 minutes. Add diced apple, nuts, sherry, thyme and half of the diced dates. Heat until apples are tender but not overcooked, sherry has evaporated and the mixture is just dry (3-4 minutes). Remove from heat and add the remaining diced dates.
3. Place half of the date mixture on a third of the tenderloin. Lay slices of prosciutto side by side on a fresh sheet of plastic wrap. Roll up the pork and place seam side down in the center of the prosciutto. Wrap the prosciutto around the pork roll, overlapping the ends, and tie with string. Discard plastic wrap.
4. Place pork on rack over roasting pan, bake 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil and rest 10 minutes. Cut into 12 slices.
5. Remove pits from whole dates; slice. Reheat remaining date mixture and divide among six plates; top with two pork slices and some date slices.
Serves 6. Analysis per serving: 483 calories, 24g protein, 17g fat (3g saturated), 7g fiber, 64g carbohydrate, 473 mg sodium
RECIPE: BARD VALLEY MEDJOOL DATE GROWERS ASSOCIATION (WWW.NATURALDELIGHTS.COM)