Last Friday we were at a party at my friend Julia's house. Sarah and I had taken over the couch and had found our bliss with a heavenly morsel in each hand. I turned toward her, between bites, and mumbled, "Do you know what she put in these things?"
Sarah nodded, "Julia said marzipan and that the recipe also called for orange flower water. She didn't have any, but she did have some passion fruit extract, so she used that instead." Sarah gave me a wry smile. "Now, who just happens to have passion fruit extract sitting around in their cupboard?"
We laughed. Who indeed? Well, only Julia, naturally!
Julia is one of the best cooks I know and she is a masterful hostess as well, which is an impressive combination. The party was a send-off for the Snyders, a family of five, who are leaving on a six month tour of Morocco and Turkey. For the occasion Julia made several Moroccan dishes: spicy lamb bites, naan, several kinds of hummus and a beautiful mound of quinoa in a red sauce.
But, back to the dates. As far as I am concerned, this could be the food of the gods. Julia was good enough to show me the recipe she used. It had some unpronounceable name. Basically, it translated to marzipan-stuffed dates, a dish traditionally served at Ramadan.
Lacking a photographic memory, I came home to do some searching online. Thanks to the wonder of Google, I found this recipe from Cooking Light. You'll note that it is from Algeria and not Morocco, but the two countries share a border (which I did not realize, until I looked at a map) so it is quite similar to what Julia made.
The recipe does not call for orange flower water or passion fruit extract, but you could knead some fruity flavor drops into the marzipan if you are so moved (I used Apricot Brandy). The quality of the dates is really important here, so buy the best you can find. Julia said she got hers from Trader Joes.
Algerian Stuffed Dates
From Cooking Light, May 2001
Yield: 24 dates
24 Medjool dates (about 1 pound)
2 drops green food coloring (optional) (Personally I would leave this out.)
2/3 cup almond paste (check for gluten- Solo brand is gluten-free)
2 teaspoons powdered sugar (I leave this out if the almond paste has sugar)
Cut a lengthwise slit down the center, but not through, each date; remove seeds.
Sprinkle food coloring over marzipan (if desired); gently knead 4 to 5 times or until color is incorporated into marzipan. Divide marzipan mixture evenly among dates; stuff into slits. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.