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Apr 26, 2011 03:56 PM

Using Dates in Chili?

Anyone ever use Medjool dates to naturally sweeten and balance the flavor in a chili recipe? I am big on using natural and whole sources of sugar (organic honey, agave nectar, natural sugars, brown rice syrup, etc.) rather than artificial and highly refined sources of sugar.

When I cook chili, I usually use a few tablespoons of coconut sugar to give some sweetness to my chili, but the idea of trying dates came to mind and when I looked online, I couldn't find any recipes that particularly used dates as a sweetener.

I might give this a try. I am thinking of chopping them up in small pieces and making them into a loose paste and -then- adding it to the chili to dissolve while the chili simmers and cooks. I am thinking the complex, sweet flavor of a Medjool date would go well with all of the spices and add to its thick and hearty texture.

I am even thinking date syrup would be a good idea...

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  1. Though I've never felt the need to sweeten chili, this sounds interesting.

    How many ounces of dates per pound of meat do you plan to use. Are they something you can buy in bulk? Any left over would probably sit on a shelf until the next time I made chili or I threw them out.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jay F

      Well, the chili I make is a spicy black bean vegetarian chili. These are the things I put in my chili:

      Cooked (not canned) black beans that have made their own "bean broth" while simmering, green and yellow bell peppers, several cloves of garlic, celery, white onions and olive oil, mushrooms, roma tomatoes (put in whole), homemade salsa or pico de gallo (used as a base, includes fresh cilantro), jalapeno peppers, oregano, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, sea salt, coconut sugar (to add some natural balancing sweetness), lime juice and pulp, some coconut milk.

      I eat and serve my chili with slices of fresh avocado on top, in a bowl, which goes really well with the rich and spicy flavor of the chili. It's always addictive for me to eat. Hard not to eat bowl after bowl of the stuff when I make it.

      If I used dates, I would not use the coconut sugar but instead I'd chop up and make a loose paste out of 2-3 dates and put them in the chili to cook. I'd have to taste after putting in 2 and see where the flavor profile is, whether it needs one more date added or it has enough sweetness with just 2 dates.

      I'd use large Medjool dates since I enjoy their flavor. Yes you can definitely buy them in bulk. Many of those dates are grown and harvested in Southern California. I usually buy them from Whole Foods or Sprouts, but I am looking into other places to get them in larger bulk supply. The Farmers Market in LA has some stalls that sell them in bulk. I can totally say that when Medjool dates are in my house, they don't last long at all.

      I use them in so many things (fruit smoothies and shakes, desserts, etc) and enjoy eating them alone. They are ridiculously good. They taste like candy to me.

      1. re: Airo

        Your chili sounds absolutely delicious, though I'm not a big fan of coconut flavor. And mushrooms, which I love, might add too much flavor for me. Alternately, I might just love that flavor addition. In any case, I think I'd like to try to make something like your chili.

        A couple of questions. Do you just add things to your pot of cooked beans? Do you cook things further after adding them (I like to add the peppers at the end, then cook for 20 minutes)? Do you make salsa and then cook it, or is there no more cooking after adding the salsa?

        It sounds just delicious.

        1. re: Jay F

          You really can't taste the coconut milk at all. I just add some to give creaminess and richness to the chili. :) Almond milk would be another good idea, too.

          What I do to make my chili is I cook and boil my beans with some olive oil, white onions, a few garlic cloves, bell peppers and celery. I let this cook for a little over 2 hours on low heat. The house is engorged with the smell of spices at this point. I like to do this first with my beans because I am making sure they are heavily infused with flavor from the start for my chili.

          As the beans cook, I will make a pico de gallo or a chunky salsa blend and keep it in the fridge to remain cool and fresh for when I need it.

          When the beans are done, I take them out the pot and drain the flavorful and aromatic bean broth from them and keep both the beans and the broth in separate bowls.

          In the pot I cooked the beans with, I will add a quarter cup (for 2 cup of raw black beans cooked) of olive oil and let that heat up.

          To that I add more chopped white onions, a few more garlic cloves (I love onion and garlic!), some chopped and de-seeded jalapeno peppers. When the onions have softened in the mix, I add in cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, and lots of chili powder and stir that up. When that's heated up a bit, I take my drained beans and add those back in the pot and make sure they are stirred up well with everything.

          Then I take my chunky salsa and the herbal bean broth and add both of those in.

          I dump in a good amount of Roma tomatoes (whole) because I love how they plump up further and burst in the mouth (like grapes) with warm tomato flesh and juice when they are cooked and bit into as I eat chili.

          I also put in my mushrooms (I love the texture they bring to the chili), some lime juice and lime pulp (only enough to add to flavor but not dominate), a bit of coconut milk, sea salt (to taste), paprika, and coconut sugar (also to taste). I might add in a bit more cilantro, too, at this point even though cilantro is already in my salsa. I'm a cilantro fiend.

          I let this all simmer and thicken up for about half an hour. I always love this time because the house truly smells insanely good and I can't wait to dig into a huge bowl topped with fresh avocado.

          Some more good additions to this chili would be blue, red, or purple potato wedges, squash and zucchini, tortilla strips, and shelled soybeans.

    2. I would caution you to have a light hand if you try this. I make a Hungarian stew that calls for prunes, and the first time I made it, I was surprised at how a handful of of those things could break down so completely, creating a syrupy, and sweet, sauce. The stew is delicious, but I would be very careful about introducing that flavor into my chili (my go-to is a spicy vegetarian black bean chili as well). If you try this, I'd be very interested in hearing about the results (I'd probably use the dates themselves, though, instead of the syrup, just as a personal preference).

      1. I've never done it but I think it sounds like a great idea - please report back on your results! I generally don't add any sugar to my chili but I do use peanut butter, which has some sweetness. I imagine if you used a very light hand with the dates it would be fantastic!