After finding myself lucky enough to bring 12 boxes of Medjool dates home after a recent job I am determined to eat every last one of them. They have gone well past their ‘use by date’ but seem to be lasting quite nicely in the fridge. Known as the ‘king of dates’ they are large dried dates that have a honey-like sweetness, chewy succulence and are almost meaty in texture. Once you’ve tried Medjool no other dates will compare and are responsible for making sticky toffee pudding one of the most sumptuous and divine puddings around.
They have been around since 6000BC, which is incredible and makes them the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. For years only royalty and honoured guests indulged in the luxurious sweetness and complexity of flavour while the commoners, meanwhile, had to settle for a drier, harder and less sweet variety. Typical. Thankfully they are now readily available to everyone but they can be quite expensive in supermarkets so it’s worth seeking them out in local Middle Eastern shops, if you can.
I have been happily eating them as a snack, which is very indulgent, but I also love putting them in spice-rich tagines and rich sticky cakes. Today, though, after an artery-clogging weekend of Burn’s night food, I have decided to make a healthy salad for lunch, inspired by Moroccan flavours. This is quite a sweet salad as you’ve got natural sweetness from the orange and a touch of honey in the spiced almonds, but I just love all the different textures and flavours: soft chewy dates, moist refreshing orange, crunchy caramelised almonds, with creamy slices of avocado and tender mild bitter leaves of baby spinach. You could try it with strips of carrot as an alternative to the orange, which would not be quite as sweet. The spiced nuts recipe will make more than you need for the salad as it’s a bit tricky to downsize the recipe. They make a great snack washed down with beer though so sure they won’t go to waste.
1½ tsp rapeseed oil
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp allspice and ground corriander
1 tsp runny honey
½ tsp medium coarse sea salt
100g pack of blanched almonds
8 Medjool dates
1 ripe Hass avocado
Large handful of baby spinach leaves
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 160C/300F/Gas 2. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the spices, salt and honey. Cook the spices for 30 seconds then add the almonds and stir to coat. Spread out on an oven tray lined with baking parchment and roast in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and caramelized. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, slice the dates in half lengthways. Peel the avocado, remove the stone, cut in half lengthways and then each half into slices. Prepare the orange by removing the skin with a sharp knife, cut into thin rounds and then into smaller segments.
- Combine the dressing ingredients some seasoning and whisk into an emulsion.
- Once the almonds have cooled arrange the baby spinach leaves, dates, orange segments and avocado onto a plate, then finish with a generous drizzle of dressing.