03/09/2015 10:14 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015

6 Oh-So-Delicious Reasons To Cook With Dates

These Middle Eastern staples aren't just for snacking. They bring a subtle sweetness and moisture to everything from cookies to rice pilafs.

By Lynn Andriani

  • A New Dimension to Main-Course Meats
    Susie Cushner
    Fiber- and mineral-rich dates are common in breads and other baked goods, but you'd never know how versatile they are unless you tried a dish such as this pilaf. It's a no-fuss, delicious and different spin on meat-with-carbs that pairs the dried fruits with Moroccan-spiced meatballs, saffron rice and red bell pepper. There's a terrific interplay of sweet and savory, and the dates go particularly well with warm and earthy cumin, paprika and cayenne.

    Get the recipe: Saffron Rice Pilaf with Lamb Meatballs, Red Peppers and Dates
  • A Quick Dessert Fix
    Ben Fink
    Another reason to love dates: They keep well in your pantry (up to a year, if you seal them in an airtight container), so whenever a craving strikes, you're likely to have all the ingredients you need to make treats like these lightened-up chocolate chip cookies. They start with a date puree; then you add modest amounts of sugar, egg whites, flour (a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat) and a small handful of mini chocolate chips. The resulting treats will more than satisfy your sweet tooth without pushing you over the caloric edge.

    Get the recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • A Way to Pull a Busy Salad Together
    Laura Pedgett
    Even if you don't make every component of this showstopping entrée salad (you can easily swap out the port vinaigrette for a basic one, or use store-bought nuts instead of roasting your own), don't omit the dates. They elevate the beets and spinach to a new level of brightness, and they're also a perfect contrast to the salty nuts and cheese.
    Get the recipe: Spinach and Beet Salad
  • The Brownie with Some Surprise Mix-Ins
    Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
    One look at this recipe's ingredient list -- walnuts or pecans, dates, orange zest, avocado -- and you may wonder if it's actually meant for a salad or other good-for-you dish. Yet, when you mix everything together in a food processor, along with vanilla extract and cocoa powder, it forms a rich and fudgy base. You press it into a pan and freeze; and, within a few hours you'll never believe you're eating dates and avocados.

    Get the recipe: Raw Brownies
  • The Trick to Thick Dessert-Like Drinks
    Teri Lyn Fisher
    Lighter versions of milkshakes can end up thin and watery. But tossing a handful of pitted Medjool dates into the blender with the milk and ice cream makes this shake smooth and creamy without the extra calories. You can use soy, rice or almond milk, and any type of ice cream (dairy-free or not); the dates will ensure that the finished drink still has plenty of heft.

    Get the recipe: It's a Date! Shake
  • The Easiest Fudge Ever
    Lisa F. Young/Thinkstock
    This gooey, chocolaty, almond-butter-spiked fudge tastes amazing, yet doesn't require any of the standing over the stove and stirring you find in traditional recipes. Made with just dates, almond butter, coconut oil and cacao powder, it's wholesome and unbelievably simple to throw together. The best part: It keeps in the freezer for those times when you're craving a little something sweet (that is, if there are any leftovers).

    Get the recipe: Almond Butter Fudge


  • Thai: Sweet And Salty Noodles Done Light
    Ann Stratton
    Pad Thai is one of the tastiest noodle dishes in Asian cooking, but most renditions are also swimming in oil, which means the typical takeout box will contain 1,140 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat. Make it yourself so you can pile on the vegetables and use fewer rice noodles. This recipe offers other tweaks to lighten the dish. Get the recipe: Pad Thai
  • Mexican: The Dairy-Free, Fresh-Tasting Taco
    While Mexican restaurants in the United States often serve enchiladas covered in melted cheese and then topped with a dollop of sour cream, tacos are a much lighter -- and authentically Mexican -- dish. This sautéed shrimp version is especially healthful, punched up with fresh tomatoes and lime juice. Get the recipe: Chipotle Shrimp Tacos
  • French: Delicious Fish That Isn't Battered And Fried
    Christopher Baker
    The French may be known for their masterful ways with butter and cream, but they've also figured out one of the tastiest ways to prepare salmon, letting a light and savory broth do most of the work. This oven-poaching method is impossible to screw up. Get the recipe: Poached Salmon Fillets
  • Indian: A Filling Vegetarian Stew
    Photo: John Kernick
    Indian cuisine is known for its vegetarian-friendly options, and this curried soup is a terrific example, brimming with lentils, chickpeas and Swiss chard. Lots of curry powder lends deep flavor without adding extra calories or fat. Plain Greek yogurt, thinned with some water and drizzled on top, is a cool counterpoint to the spice. Get the recipe: Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup
  • Japanese: A Superfood Soup
    Sang An
    In this twist on classic chicken noodle soup, miso, chard and buckwheat noodles stand in for bouillon, peas and pasta. Leeks and scallions add cancer-fighting phytochemicals to the magnesium- and folate-rich dish. And since miso and edamame have a lot of protein, you can even omit the chicken and still have a nutritious soup. Get the recipe: Miso Noodle Soup
  • Italian: Guilt-Free Comfort Food
    Anna Williams
    Pasta gets all the glory in Italian cuisine, but white beans -- aka cannellini -- are the unsung heroes: creamy, filling and good for you. This soup, reminiscent of the well-known pasta e fagioli, skips pasta but is no less satisfying, thanks to croutons made with whole wheat bread and roasted garlic. Get the recipe: White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Roasted Garlic Croutons
  • Asian: The Egg Roll Alternative
    Spring rolls can be a healthy substitute for the deep-fried egg versions, since they're often stuffed with raw vegetables and lean protein and don't require a dip in hot oil. Plus, the rice paper wrapper is gluten-free. (And while they're technically not a dinner, we could eat a whole plateful.) A simple trick to prevent tearing: Use a piece of lettuce as the first layer. Get the recipe: Crispy Shrimp and Vegetable Spring Rolls