Date and Nut Balls (or simply, “Balls”)
In this modern age of high-tech recipe organization, I have found myself reverting to the most primitive of recipe filing techniques. Yes, I am an avid user of MacGourmet, and I even back up my recipes in Dropbox in case of a computer catastrophe. But somehow, the recipes I like – the ones I make over and over and over again – have taken the form of scribbled-on sticky notes loosely corralled on my kitchen counter between the sink and the cereal boxes.
Along with these muffins, balls have become one of my snacking staples. They are inspired by Larabars, which are snack bars made from simple combinations of unsweetened fruits, nuts, and spices. Although the concept of processing mixtures of fruits and nuts into a bar seems very simple to replicate (and ultimately is), I managed to screw up my first few attempts. Initially, I found a source that suggested soaking the dates in water before combining them with the nuts. That produced wet, slimy bars that I ate anyway because I hate to waste food. I subsequently found more reliable recipes and began having more success. However, although it seems trivial, the recipe didn’t stick for me until I started making balls instead of bars.
Chocolate Mint Balls
(If you’re an avid food blog reader, you’ve probably seen recipes like this a kajillion times already. My recipe has evolved, but it was largely inspired by Chocolate-Covered Katie.)
- 1 cup nuts (I typically use a mixture of unsalted roasted almonds and raw cashews, but you can experiment. Go nuts!)
- 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and halved (As a kid, I used to eat the pitted dates that come in a bag. One day, I bought a container of normal dates entirely unaware that they had pits. Fortunately, my teeth remained intact.)
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt (optional, but recommended)
- 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract (Don’t use too much unless you want your balls to taste like toothpaste.)
- Grind up the nuts coarsely in the food processor. (Just a few pulses will do. Don’t go nuts, or else you’ll end up with nut butter.)
- Add the dates to the food processor and process with the nuts until it forms a loose, crumbly, sticky mixture. You should be able to take a little sample and pinch it together into a solid mass.
- Add the cocoa powder, vanilla extract, salt, and peppermint extract and process just long enough to mix everything in.
- Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized bowl and knead the mixture together into one big blob. (Note: If it doesn’t come together easily, you can add a little water to the mixture. This seems to do the trick.)
- Find a diversion that does not require using your hands (music, TV, podcasts, etc.) and laboriously roll small balls between your palms. Your hands will become very sticky by the end.
- Lick the delicious, sticky mixture off of your hands. If you’re unsure of how to do this, watch a dog licking something s/he deems delicious, and emulate his/her thoroughness and extreme attention to detail.
- Store the balls in the refrigerator in a closed container. They keep for several weeks but are best in the first few days, as they dry out over time.
What I like about balls is that the deliciousness of the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. Dates are okay but perhaps a bit cloying. Nuts are nuts. Unsweetened cocoa powder is bitter and gross. But when they’re combined, through some magical synergy, they become a truly delicious snack. Any recipe that earns a place in my sticky note pile is going to do pretty well on the edibility scale as far as I’m concerned. I give the balls a solid 4.75. Even Bill, who used to oppose the existence of dates, thinks the balls are pretty good and places them at an impressive 4.25.
- If you don’t like chocolate and/or mint, fell free to experiment. If you have a favorite Larabar flavor, just look at the ingredients and try to replicate it. But make balls instead of bars. I don’t know why, but balls just taste better.