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A sweet alternative for the holidays

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A sweet alternative for the holidays photo

Who doesn’t love that first smear of honey dripping slowly off a crisp apple slice? Well, this year I am saying, ‘Put down the Honey Bear and try the honey from Israel.’ I am not talking about honey from bees; I am referring to Silan or date-honey.

Biblical foodies and Torah scholars that have bandied about the notion that the land flowing with milk and honey refers to date honey, though beekeeping was an ancient practice.

Either way, I am in love with the rich sweetness and sophisticated, dried fruit flavor of date-honey.

While in Chicago, I can be in touch with my Israeli spirit by using some Israeli ingredients, and my favorite right now is Silan.  

Date-honey is a puree of dates and water. Easy to purchase at kosher stores and those that carry Mediterranean foods, I prefer to make my own. Sometimes the store bought products have added sugar which, in my mind defeats the point of date-honey. I am looking for the natural sweetness from the fruit and not from sugar. My son Jonah calls dates “nature’s candy.” He is right! And the puree is a perfect natural sweetener that is perfect for most recipes where sugar, maple syrup or honey is added.

Date-honey is commonly used in Israel and if I can’t be in Israel for the holidays, I can use the exclusive and delicious sweetener for my apple-dipping, cooking and baking.


Sweet and Sour Meatballs with Date-Honey

These are not your mother’s meatballs! Skip the cloying, overly sweet sauce and use subtle and stylish date-honey.

Date-honey adds a sophisticated sweetness that is rich and earthy.

This recipe is modern with no added sugar and you can easily substitute the ground chuck for turkey.

*Chef’s tip – I use a panade in my ground meat dishes. A panade is a starch and liquid mixture that adds moisture to meatballs, meatloaf and other dishes. It is not a way to “stretching” the meat. It is there because meat shrinks as it cooks, and ground meat, more so, and squeezes out moisture in the process. The panade is a moist “place holder” and keeps the meat from contracting so much as to be dry and flavorless. A panade can be made with soft bread crumbs, oats, cooked rice, barley or other cooked grains. The liquid can be wine, stock, beer, water or any flavorful liquid.

For the sweet and sour sauce

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, grated on a box grater
2 garlic cloves, grated on a box grater
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce or 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Silan (date honey)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the meatballs

1 cup soft bread crumbs (leftover challah works well for this)
1/2 cup chicken stock, white wine or water
2 pounds ground beef chuck
2 eggs
1 small onion, grated on a box grater
2 garlic cloves, grated
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1. Heat a medium sauce pan, with the olive oil, over medium heat. Add the grated onion and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is very fragrant and beginning to caramelize. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

2. Decrease the heat to low and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.

3. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl and add the stock or other liquid. Stir to combine.

4. Squeeze an excess liquid out of the bread crumbs. Transfer the breadcrumbs to another bowl and discard the liquid.

5. Add the remaining ingredients for the meatballs and gently mix together. With light and slightly wet hands form the meatballs. You can also use an ice cream scoop for this and then all the meatballs will be the same size.

6. Heat a sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat. Brown the meatballs in batches until caramelized.

7. Transfer the meatballs to the sauce and continue cooking in the sauce.

8. Serve the meatballs with rice, potatoes, or favorite vegetable. Garnish with chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds.


Homemade Date-Honey

Homemade date-honey is easy and fast to make. Sometimes I keep it neutral without spices, but I like the added OOMPH of flavor cinnamon brings to it.

20 Medjool dates, pitted
1 cup very hot water
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1. Combine the dates, hot water and cinnamon, if using, and steep for 1 hour.

2. Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor until very creamy and thick.

3. Store the date honey, covered in the refrigerator for 1 month.


Root Vegetable Tzimmes with Date-Honey

This stylish version of the classic side dish takes center stage with rich fall root veggies and warm toasty spices. The date-honey compliments the vegetables without being too sweet. I serve this as a side for my favorite Pomegranate Chicken Recipe (my own recipe of course!), or with a large salad as a vegetarian meal.

Extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 medium sweet potato, unpeeled, cut into large dice
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into large dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
2 medium red beets, peeled and cut into wedges about 1/2 inch thick
1 medium gold beet, peeled and cut into wedges about 1/2 inch thick
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup date honey
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 star anise
1/8  teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 325

1. Place a large Dutch oven or sauté pan, lightly coated with EVOO, over medium heat.

2. Sauté the root vegetables, in batches, until they are browned on all sides. BE SURE TO SEASON EACH BATCH WITH SALT AND PEPPER!

3. Add back all the vegetables to the Dutch oven or to a pan with a tight fitting lid. Add the date-honey, raisins, water, spices and salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan and roast the vegetables about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Uncover the pan and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are browned, caramelized and gooey!

5. Serve with chicken, brisket, fish, or as an entrée.

6. Garnish with fresh parsley, pomegranate seeds, and chopped dates


Crustless Pumpkin Custard with Date-Honey 

Special equipment – 8 3/4 cup ramekins
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups coconut milk, or whole milk for dairy recipes
3/4 cup date-honey
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350

1. Heat a tea kettle with water.

2. Whisk all the ingredients together and divide the custard into 8 ramekins.

3. Place the ramekins in a pan with high sides. Pour the hot water into the pan so the water level comes up about halfway up the ramekins.

4. Bake the custard for 45-555 minutes or until it is set but still jiggly in the center.

5. Remove the whole set up from the oven and allow the custards to cool for 30 minutes in the water before refrigerating.

6. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.

7. Garnish with pumpkin seeds, chopped dates, and pomegranate seeds.      

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