Let me give you a leg up on your New Year’s resolution.
You know, the one where you vowed to eat healthy foods and give up refined sugar!
No? Maybe that was just me.
True story, I have resolved to give up refined sugar (and as much refined white flour as possible) for one whole month. That may sound either impossible or too short, depending on your own eating habits. But I have come to a point where I can’t stuff the guilty feeling I get when I tell people I’m a vegetarian because I believe it is healthier, all the while tossing back cookies like they are going out of style.
There are so many foods I am going to miss this month, and I am not making any promises about staying away from them forever, but I am actually pretty excited about detoxing from my sugar addiction.
If only my sweet tooth would get on board…
That’s why I made these delicious and nutritious chocolate-date-nut balls. Let’s call them truffles. Or even fudge! That would make my sweet tooth even happier!
So. Dates. Those weird, wrinkly little fruits. Chewy and sticky and full of natural sweetness (and a bunch of other good things, like fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants).
My first introduction to dates was in this wonderful, crumb-and-chocolate-chip topped cake my mom used to make. I didn’t even know they were in there, to be honest (yes, I thought the name “Chocolate Date Picnic Cake” meant that you should go on a date and have a picnic…with cake)! But, until now, I had always been afraid to try them in any other form but that cake.
Then I came across a recipe for chocolate seed balls that used dates instead of cream and sugar, and my curiosity was piqued! They were vegan, which meant I could make them for my mom, they had tons of healthy protein and omega-3s, and no added sugar whatsoever! Perfect.
That first batch was good, but ultimately a little too seedy for my taste, which is why I transitioned to nuts (but if you have nut allergies, then definitely substitute a mix of chia seeds, ground flax seeds, and hemp seeds for the nuts!). Nuts are also high in protein, fiber, and fatty acids, but you should always buy them raw! Pre-roasted nuts are generally not great for you. Leaving aside the salt issue, most manufacturers use vegetable oils in the roasting process, which knocks off the balance between omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. (Um…can you tell I have started doing quite a bit of reading about nutritional science? Sorry…I will stop talking now.)
This nut version does taste like a rich, dark chocolate truffle. Like the chocolate prune cake I made a few months ago, it isn’t super sweet, but the cocoa really shines. I literally groaned with pleasure as I was eating the first one of these. I think I am going to freeze the rest and eat just one per day!
These “truffles” couldn’t be easier to make, seriously!
Grab about two large handfuls of Medjool dates. I bought my dates in the organic/bulk section of my grocery store. They were medium-size, and it took 17 of them to make 1 packed cup of dates, which is what this recipe needs.
Also, don’t forget that you need to pull the pits out of your dates! This is super easy…just pull the date apart with your fingers, or squish it a bit, and the almond-shaped pit will reveal itself. You can pull it right out as quick as you please!
Drop the dates and ¾ cup nuts into your food processor. I used half almonds and half pecans, two nuts I adore and happened to have on hand. You may notice that they are both a bit processed…alas. I only had slivered almonds, which are blanched to remove the skins and then chopped before packaging! But the pecans were originally purchased as raw halves, which I dry-roasted in the oven (on a cookie sheet with no oils or seasonings, for about 8 minutes at 300°, until fragrant and darker in color) a few weeks back so I could have toasted nuts in my oatmeal. Yum.
By the way, if you have the space it is best to store your nuts in the freezer. This will keep them fresher longer.
Add the cocoa powder, espresso or coffee powder, and vanilla. Continue to process on high speed until the nuts are all broken down and the mixture looks fairly even and mealy. (Sorry for the terrible photo; Jake really wanted me to stop taking pictures.)
At this point, the nuts will have released some oils that will help the mixture to stick together and form dense little balls. Perfect! If, however, you find that your mixture can’t stick to itself when you compact it (I squeezed a handful in the palm of my hand and it immediately formed a little block), you can always add 1 tsp. water to help it out.
Grab a cookie scoop and start forming the date nut mixture into balls! As I said earlier, you do need to compress the mixture quite a bit to get it to come together, but the sticky dates and the oils in the nuts should be all you need. Squeeze and roll into balls! I got 20 from mine (though when I made the same recipe with seeds instead of nuts, I got 23).
These will keep well in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks, or longer in the refrigerator or freezer!
If you want to go a little fancier, or a little sweeter or chocolatey-er, I recommend rolling the balls in flaked coconut or cocoa powder, or even including some of these amazing allergy-friendly chocolate chips! I swear, they taste exactly like dairy chocolate chips, but they contain less sugar and are suitable for vegans!
1 cup pitted Medjool dates (about 17 medium)
6 tbsp. raw, roughly chopped almonds
6 tbsp. roughly chopped, dry-toasted pecans
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. espresso powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Process the dates and nuts together in a food processor until rough and chunky, but even.
Add the cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Continue processing until fine and mealy.
Form into 1″ balls, pressing firmly to stick the ingredients together.
Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or freezer.