I've already written an article about the magic of my good friend tahini, so it was only a matter of time before I, the humble messenger, wrote a similar guide for my other quarantine infatuation: dates.  

Laila Adarkar

Rightfully known as nature’s candy, these carmelly morsels of ooey, gooey goodness are lusciously soft, wonderfully sweet, and unparalleled in their delectable deliciousness. While they have only been in my life for just over a year now, dates have quickly risen the rankings in my food hierarchy, asserting themselves undoubtedly as an indispensable member of my pantry army. My addiction to dates has gone so far, in fact, that when I returned to UCLA this past fall, I brought six bags, yes six bags, of dates with me. And I have even been known, I’ll admit, to slip a bag of dates into my suitcase to take with me on vacation.

So, as before, let’s start at the beginning. What actually are dates

Dates are a stone fruit that grows on trees called date palms. While they can be eaten fresh, they are traditionally eaten dried, which concentrates the fruit’s sugars. Dates have been present in Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years, but have gained popularity in recent years for their natural sweetening ability, as well as the numerous health benefits, like being rich in fiber and antioxidants. 

For those who have no idea what a date is: imagine a raisin, but much larger and denser, with an almost dulce-de-leche-like taste and texture. Dates possess a uniquely concentrated natural sugar that makes it perfectly suited for all of your sweetening needs.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use them:

Laila Adarkar

My earliest introduction to dates came in the form of smoothies. The addition of 1-2 dates will take your smoothie and/or smoothie bowl situation to a whole new level. One of my classic date smoothies is this chocolate-peanut buttery dream. I also love to throw them in a green smoothie to contrast the bitter greens with a little brightness. They also add a nice sweetness to any sort of açaí or smoothie bowl. You really can not go wrong.

Laila Adarkar

Another simple way to utilize dates is to chop a couple up and sprinkle them across your favorite oatmeal bowl.

They also add a lovely sweet balance to salads and other savory dishes, like this spinach salad or this roasted cauliflower.

 However, my absolute favorite way to eat dates, as I mention in my tahini article, is notably the most simple route other than eating them plain. Simply slice open your dates and lather them with your nut or seed butter of choice. For bonus points, sprinkle them with cinnamon and a touch of sea salt. Maybe even add in a couple slivers of dark chocolate if you're feeling ambitious. Sweet, sticky, and nutty, balanced by a touch of saltiness — this will, forever and always, be my ideal sweet treat to end the night.

Laila Adarkar

Oh, and an insider tip: if your dates are too hard, or you are seeking more of a warm dessert, pop your dates in the microwave for five to ten seconds depending on your desired softness. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

Find dates at your local grocery store or farmers market. As a matter of fact, my favorite brand of dates, Del Real, is now at Whole Foods. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. I have now imparted all of the date wisdom I possess onto you all. The rest is up to you.