Since ancient times, dates have been a staple of the Middle Eastern pantry. At least three dozen distinct varieties of date palm are cultivated. Because of their naturally tacky consistency and high sugar content, many people believe dates are a dried fruit. Although you can purchase dried dates, nearly all dates are sold in their fresh, soft or semidry state. Among the most popular types found in American and European markets are the moderately sweet Deglet Noor, a good choice for this recipe, and the rich, meaty Medjool. Buy dates pitted to eliminate a preparation step.
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