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Dates are one of the most wonderful fruits, providing fibre, nutrition and natural sweetness. They are amazingly versatile and can be very reasonably priced. From the fresh juicy dates that are perfect for snacks and special desserts (simply replace the pip with an almond and dip in melted chocolate for a divine sweet), to the pressed packs of pitted dates, they should be a staple in your grocery cupboard. Here are a few new tricks I have recently learnt that have made me go nuts for dates.  


A simple, slow-baking process turns dates into a chewy toffee; the heat caramelises the sugar and voila! - a relatively guilt-free sweetie. Choose pitted dates, and snip in half. (TIP - oil the kitchen scissors beforehand.) I also like to snip off the tiny hard bit on the end of the date for a smoother sweet. Lightly oil a flat baking sheet and place the dates side by side. Place in a preheated oven at 100 o C and check them after 15 minutes to see how they are doing - 30 minutes should be perfect, but the timing depends on the quality and softness of the dates. They go a bit gooey at first, then harden into lumps of toffee when cool. Store in glass jar and just dip in when the sugar craving hits.  


It’s worth making a nice big batch of this delicious fudge as you can use it in a number of ways. The trick is to make sure that you don’t make the mixture too wet. Prepare 500 grams of pitted dates by snipping off the little hard ‘ends’ and cutting the dates in half. Place in a heavy-bottomed pan with 3 teaspoons of water and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. A few drops of vanilla extract help with the flavour and, if desired, you can add a little Allspice powder or a shake of Mixed spice powder. Cook on a really, really, low heat – say 2 or 3, depending on your stove. The dates will soften and soon you will be able to mash them with a fork. Now add 1 tablespoon of coconut cream and 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, sifted. Please note: Obviously if you use a better grade of cocoa you get a better result. Cacao powder and cacao nibs are made from unroasted seeds, cocoa powder from roasted seeds. Any cocoa to which starch, sugar and milk powder have been added will not give you that genuine, rich, dark chocolatey flavour. Mash the cocoa powder into the dates and continue to cook on very low heat until everything is nicely mixed. Prepare a flat dish by rubbing a little coconut oil on the base, then turn your fudge out of the pot and press it down firmly. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Cut into squares while still warm. Place in the fridge and allow to cool right down. This is just the most delicious sweet snack! 


Instead of making the date fudge into squares, you can make delicious date balls. By rolling the mixture in a coating, you can have something ready-made to pop into the lunch box or eat on the hop. While the mixture is still warm, roll into balls and then roll in whatever coating you like, or a variety to ring the changes - try almond powder; toasted sesame seeds; toasted oat powder; extra dried fruits or nuts. Chocolate vermicelli or multi-coloured sprinkles add attraction for the young ones. I like to toast the seeds or nuts for better flavour and also better longevity. These Date Balls, flattened into discs, make a great décor for parfait, ice-cream, or individual fruit salad bowls. 


Mix 1 1/2 cups of the date fudge with 3 cups of mixed toasted oats and toasted coconut flakes which have been pulsed in your blender to make coarse flour. Work the date mixture into your dry ingredients until you have a flexible ‘dough’ and lay this as a base by pressing into in a shallow tart dish. I oil the bottom of the dish lightly to help lift the slices out easily. Melt a bar of black/dark chocolate and drizzle evenly over the base. Pop in the fridge and allow the base to set. Just before serving, slice fresh fruit – mango or pineapple are great! Arrange the fruit on the tart base, and serve with fresh cream, or coconut cream if you are vegan. Totally delish!

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