What is it about dates that seems to conjure daydreams of exotic desert locales with palm fronds, brass tea service and lots of silky throw pillows?
Dates are actually a pretty down-to-earth fruit. In spite of their harvest habitats in California and the Middle East, dates have managed to reach the mainstream, "meat 'n' potatoes" tables of Middle America, often used to add natural sweetness to trail mix and breakfast cereals.
Part of their growing popularity in the US can be attributed to the health-consciousness trend - the desert fruit are a storehouse of fiber and potassium - but they're already a long-standing staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
We've enjoyed dates served with cardamom coffee or mint tea, but they also make a sweet addition to poultry and meats. One fun appetizer tip we ran across is stuffing dates with goat cheese, cream cheese or even blue cheese: A sweet-salty reaction happens that's a foodie's dream come true, without requiring any treks across the desert or a magic lamp.
Throw pillows are optional.