1 cup chopped dried dates
3/4 cup chopped pistachios
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon pink salt
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (uncooked)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 13x9" baking dish with cooking spray.
Chop some dried, whole pitted dates until you have 1 cup. To chop dates: First put a tiny amount of flour into a small bowl; 1/4 teaspoon flour is enough for about 1/3 cup of dates. Next, lay a whole date on your cutting board and slice it in half lengthwise. Lay each half cut-side-down and slice in half lengthwise. Gather the four strips together and chop them into short lengths. Put the bits of that date into the bowl and toss lightly in the flour. Chop a few more dates, tossing the bits lightly after each; then toss more thoroughly and pick apart any bits that are stuck together. Keep chopping dates until you've used up all the loose flour in the bowl. Transfer the floured date bits to your measuring cup. Repeat the whole process until you have chopped and floured 1 cup of date bits. Wash your hands to remove the sticky date paste. Set aside the date bits.
Chop some whole roasted pistachios. Measure out slightly more than half a cup of whole pistachios. Put them into a small spice grinder, about a tablespoon or two at a time, and grind them down to a coarse meal. You should wind up with about 3/4 cup of pistachio bits. Set aside the pistachio bits.
In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon pink salt. Stir these together. Add the pistachio bits to the dry ingredients and stir again. Set aside the bowl of dry ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar; 1/3 cup white sugar; and 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened. Beat until creamy.
In a small bowl, break 3 eggs. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Briefly mix these with a fork, then pour into the large mixing bowl. Beat thoroughly.
Gradually add the mixture of dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl, and mix well.
One cup at a time, add 3 cups rolled oats (uncooked). Mix well. Half a cup at a time, add 1 cup chopped dried dates. Mix well, making sure the dates get evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Drop blobs of dough into the corners and center of a greased 9x13" baking dish. Use the back of a spoon to press the dough into an even layer.
Bake at 350ºF for 15-20 minutes. The surface should be golden brown. Place baking dish on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, set out another cooling rack and cover it with waxed paper.
Cut into bars while still slightly warm. They should be cool enough to hold together, but not so cold that they are difficult to cut through. Carefully remove the bars from the baking dish and lay them upside-down on the waxed paper on the cooling rack. This gives the bottom and sides of each bar some time to dry so they will be less sticky.
Although inspired by a basic oatmeal-raisin bar recipe, this version is optimized for Middle Eastern flavors. The dates, pistachios, and cardamom go really well together, and the result is delightfully different from the usual American bar cookie. This recipe was a group effort, including my partner Doug's suggestion to make dates the dried fruit, and some flavor hints from my desert characters.
Flouring the date bits will help keep them from sticking together. This way, they distribute more evenly throughout the dough. If you don't want to use flour, other possibilities include powdered sugar, tapioca starch, or corn starch. Also, lava soap (which contains pumice) is good for removing date paste from your hands.
If you don't want to chop your own dates, you can try buying chopped dates instead of whole pitted dates. However, I've tasted pre-chopped dates and found them tougher and blander than the tender and flavorful whole dates. YMMV.
I chopped the pistachios down to coarse meal so as to avoid big tooth-hurting chunks of nut. If you prefer your nuts in big chunks, you can buy pre-chopped pistachios or simply chop yours to the desired size.
Note that pistachios, like many nuts, often come pre-salted. If you use salted pistachios, then you should probably reduce or eliminate the extra salt called for in the recipe. However, if you're making these for summer trail food, you might enjoy the extra salt, so feel free to tinker as needed.
I used Australian pink salt. Himalayan pink salt would probably work just as well, or plain table salt if that's what you have. If you're making these as summer trail food, and you like salt, consider sprinkling a pinch or two of a flaky "finishing" salt over the top.
If you prefer drop cookies to bar cookies, you can drop this dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Reduce baking time to 10-12 minutes.
This recipe requires considerable time and effort to make; it's not challenging in the sense of technical skill, but there are many steps and the dough gets stiff and stubborn. Also, I've been making this with help, and I wouldn't want to do it alone.
So you may want to designate this recipe as "festival food." But it's sooo worth it!
These oatmeal-date bars are probably high in calories, but not empty calories. They are made with natural, nutrient-rich ingredients so they have a high food value. (They're somewhat similar to the waybars my desertfolk make, and would serve well as trail food if you go hiking. If you bake them a little longer, they'll hold together better.) They include a nice combination of protein, sugar, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They're good for dessert or snacks, and are related to such things as granola bars or food-cookies.