This past weekend marked two months in Chicago. I relocated to a new city, started a new job, and set up a new apartment. As part of the transition, I’ve spent my time wandering around neighborhoods, stumbling in and out of festivals, farmer’s markets, ice cream shops, restaurants and bookstores. My main goal, of course, is to find the best eats in my neighborhood.
Besides venturing to different neighborhoods in the city, I have also been acquainting myself with the best snacks at work. One of the perks of my workplace, besides our incredible teams and agile work process, is an abundance of snacks. At any time of day, I am only steps away from granola bars, protein bars, nuts, chocolate covered espresso beans, and other delightful snacks. One afternoon, as I perused the daily selection, I spotted a bar that caught my eye: RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt. The list of ingredients was surprisingly short and simple: dates, egg whites, cashews, almonds, cocoa powder. While I enjoyed the RXBar, I couldn’t help but compare it to the sesame date bars that my mom frequently made.
Dates were, and continue to be, a staple at my parents’ house. We ate them daily, with yogurt, walnuts, or even nut butters. As a special treat, my mom would make date bars that were full of nuts – cashews, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds – making a crunchy but sticky delight. Sesame date bars never lasted in our house, since my dad and I usually ate several a day.
Remove pits from the dates, and add to a frying pan with a bit of oil.
When the dates are warm and pliable, lightly grease your hands and mush them together. Roll out the mashed dates and add cardamom, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews or any other nuts or seeds you like. Roll the mixture again and form into a ball.
You can cut the dates into squares or roll them into balls. Dip into sesame seeds. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.
Sesame Date Balls
- 2 pounds dates
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup crushed walnuts
- 1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans...etc.)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 1 cup sesame seeds (for rolling date balls)
Remove pits from the dates.
Add about a teaspoon of oil to a frying pan and turn on the heat to the lowest setting. Add the pitted dates. (The oil will keep the dates from sticking to the pan). Heat the dates for a few minutes, until they are softened.
Once the dates are warm and pliable, lightly grease your hands to mush the dates together. Continue mushing until all the dates mix together. As you work with the dates, pull out any tough fibrous pieces that aren't blending.
To roll out the dates, lightly grease a countertop or use a baking mat. Roll out the dates until they form a flat sheet. Sprinkle with cardamom, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, walnuts, almonds, and cashews (or any other nuts that you're using).
Roll the date mixture, tucking all the nuts inside. Swirl the long roll into a ball, and roll out again. Add more nuts and cocoa powder as needed. (If your dates are soft, you will need to add more nuts and cocoa powder. If the dates are dry, you won’t be able to add as many nuts.)
When all the nuts and spices have been incorporated, roll out the dates, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the date sheet into squares. Retain the square shape, or roll into balls. Roll the squares or balls into sesame seeds. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.
- You can roll the date bars in sesame seeds or coconut. I don't like coconut, so I always stick with sesame seeds.
- If the dates you're using are softer and mushier, you may need to add more nuts and cocoa powder to keep the bars together. Likewise, if your dates are drier, you will need to use less nuts and cocoa powder.
- You can cut the dates into squares and dip them in sesame seeds, or roll them into balls. Whichever shape you prefer!