Spring might seem pretty far away for many of us (I write as a wicked winter wind howls outside my window), but in Israel, the earliest blooming trees are starting to shake off winter. Marking that is the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, or the new year for trees. One of the traditional foods to enjoy is the date, one of the seven species of fruits and grains for which Israel is praised.
In their dried form, dates are sweet and chewy and almost like candy. And when pitted, they are an incredibly inviting form for stuffing with all sorts of savory and sweet fillings. Although fillings of cheese and cream sound especially good to me, this time I wanted a nondairy version that could follow a Jewish meat meal or appeal to vegans and people eschewing dairy.
Nuts are often used as a filling, so I turned to a tree-based nut—pine nuts (pignoli), the delicate-flavored ivory kernels found through Italy and Israel and the Mediterranean. But I also wanted creamy texture, and that led me to the idea of processing roasted pine nuts into a spreadable butter. The results surprised me—in a good way. The processing not only smoothes the texture but also evens the flavor of the roasted nuttiness. No shame in eating this by the spoonful.
But do save some for the dates—because the gentle flavor of the pine nut butter accents without overwhelming the sweet and mild fruitiness of the date. They seem like a perfect match.
This recipe might sound exotic (and indeed, pine nuts can be one of the more expensive nuts, so you probably won’t do this all the time), but it’s beautifully simple. Just roast the pine nuts until golden (that takes about 6 minutes). Let them cool, process with salt and sugar. The soft seeds break down quickly and you’ll have “butter” in a minute or two. It’s very soft, so I like to freeze it briefly to firm it before spooning it into the dates. That’s it. Done, delicious—and natural, nutritious, gluten-free, and vegan to boot. Just what I was hoping for— a fitting bite for celebrating the gifts of nature and trees.
Note: If you are in a hurry, a smear of natural, lightly sweetened almond butter also makes an excellent filling for the dates.
Freshly made roasted pine nut butter lends creaminess and nuttiness to its container here, the naturally sweet and chewy dried date. Although you can stuff a whole date, I think half is better for these rich little bites. This easy nondairy recipe makes enough for a party, but you can always stuff a few dates at a time to enjoy as needed. And the decadent pine nut butter can be used any way you’d use a peanut or almond butter, only it tastes so much better. Medjool dates are typically very large and sweet and so ideal here, but other date varieties will work, too.
- 1 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 20 (about 12 ounces) dried pitted Medjool dates
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pine nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, jostling the pan once or twice, for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool.
- In a small food processor, process the toasted pine nuts, sugar, and salt until smooth. Chill in freezer about 20 minutes to thicken.
- Meanwhile, split the dates in half lengthwise, and arrange hollow side up on a platter.
- Spoon about ½ teaspoon pine nut butter in each date half. Serve.