San Jose is silly with citrus and sunny days galore. Still, the New Yorker in me mourns that my kids won't know what it's like to grow up a few blocks from the corner deli, with barrels of pickles and pastrami on rye. Now that one of them is vegetarian I suppose my guilt is ill-placed, for a pastrami sandwich holds no more appeal for him than an old-school Walkman.
But nostalgia is a mighty temptress, and when we eat certain foods, our emotional synapses fire bright, bringing us back to our childhoods, where walks to the deli, puckery half-sours, and comforting treats still hold strong sway. My love for this quickbread is deep-seated, and I can think of no better use for labneh than as a mighty crown to glorify the flavors of my youth.
Recipe for Date Nut Quickbread with labneh and pomegranate arils
This wholesome quickbread harkens back to my early years, when the corner deli sold plastic-wrapped rounds of moist date cake pebbled with walnuts. As a kid I slathered slices with cream cheese, but grown-up me loves fat slices smeared with labneh or thick Greek yogurt. When in season, pomegranate seeds make a beautiful topping.
8 ounces moist, sticky dates (either Medjool or deglet noor), pitted and chopped
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nutmeal of your choice
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each cardamom and ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts, rough-chopped or left big, toasted if desired
Labneh (or Greek yogurt) and pomegranate arils, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
Place dates in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup and top with the boiling water, pushing gently to submerge. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to soften for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the dry ingredients (whole wheat pastry flour through salt) together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla.
When dates are ready, pour off the water into a small bowl and reserve the liquid. Transfer dates to a small food processor, add back 3 tablespoons of the date soaking water (discard the rest), and puree until thick, uniform, and sticky. You should have one cup of date paste. Transfer paste to the egg mixture and whisk well to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir well with a rubber spatula, sweeping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all flour particles are absorbed. Do not overmix. Fold in the walnuts.
Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the center of the oven for 55 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. When loaf has fully cooled, slice, and slather with labneh or Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils. (To store, wrap the cooled loaf tightly with foil. The flavor and texture get even lovelier with age.)
Words, Recipe + Photograph © Cheryl Sternman Rule