Hey, honey, let's date: a sweet vegan alternative

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Fruit is a place where sweetness and nourishment meet. Dipping apples in honey, a fall fruit treat, poses a problem for vegans. Honey is made by bees, and vegans abstain from animal products.

There's a sweet, plant-based solution - dates. They're a traditional food for the Sephardic Jews of the Middle East, and no wonder - date palms have grown there for 6,000 years. In California, date cultivation began only a century or so ago. Wherever they're grown, they're at their ripe peak right now.

Low-glycemic and loaded with potassium, iron and other essential minerals, dates are also loaded with puns and symbolism. The word for dates in Hebrew is tamar, which sounds like the Hebrew phrase "to stop," as in stop your enemy.

Can eating dates repel bad guys? Data is inconclusive. However, they've been enjoyed as a source of energy since way before so-called energy drinks. This fruit is all that and a mouthful of natural candy, too.

If what you know of dates is a box of pressed, processed cubes, a real one, whether fresh or dried, is a sweet revelation. Deglet Noor dates are slender, with a little chewiness. And then there are Medjools. Considered the king of dates, Medjools are the largest variety, gooey and astonishingly caramelly.

Dates are beloved by bakers and sweets lovers everywhere, from the Middle Eastern date-stuffed shortbread cookies called mamoul to your auntie's date nut bars.

Another reason dates delight — they offer natural, low-glycemic sweetness, dairy-free moisture and egg-free body to vegan baked goods. Very nice, but there are other ways to date. Just a few add a sweet complexity to savory stews, salads and whole-grain dishes. Stuff a whole one with an almond or enjoy dates at their sweet and simple best, plain and whole, with a cup of coffee or tea.

Vegan Date Honey

Makes 1 cup.

This fruit puree has the thick consistency of apple butter. Spread it on toast, dot it on oatmeal or whole grain pancakes, and by all means, dip apples in it at Rosh Hashana for a new spin on an old tradition. Orange flower water is available at Middle Eastern markets.

1 1/3 cup water or black tea

1 cup pitted dates (Deglet Noor or Medjools)

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon orange flower water (optional but heavenly)

In a small saucepan, bring water to boil. Add dates and stir. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Leave the pot on the burner for 30 minutes.

Pour the dates and water into a food processor and process for 2 minutes, or until smooth and saucy. Add lemon juice and orange flower water. Process again for another minute. Keeps covered and refrigerated for several months.

Per serving: 31 calories, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 0.2 g protein, 8.4 g carbohydrates, 0.7 g fiber, 0 sodium.