So this past weekend I cooked up a bacon appetizer for a fancy dinner party that I was going to – bacon-wrapped dates, with Balinese long pepper. It was a huge hit! And super easy to make. The only potential hard part is, you need to get your hands on the ingredients.
I found some large, appetizing-looking dates at my local grocery store. And since I’m lucky enough to live near Zingerman’s, I went to the Deli and bought a half-pound of Broadbent’s dry-cured bacon, sliced thickly. But then when I asked the Deli dry-goods person where the Balinese long pepper was in the store, he replied that they were out! And that it’s hard to keep it in stock. Oops. But fortunately, they did have a sample box still, and since I only needed a few of the large, oddly shaped long pepper corns, I was able to get enough to make my dish for the party with. Whew.
I went home with my haul, and made an appetizer for 8 in only half an hour. First I pitted the dates. Then with a large knife, held very carefully so I could not cut myself, I managed to chop the inch-long, rock hard long pepper somewhat into strips, or at least small pieces when the strips broke up. The long pepper is very spicy, so I did not want the pieces to be too large. It is spicy in a very aromatic, flowery kind of way though – not just hot. Very much worth trying.
Then I put a couple of slivers/pieces into my pitted dates – roughly in a line the length of the date, so that if you ate the date in 2-3 bites you’d still get some long pepper in each bite. Then wrapped each date with a half slice of Broadbent’s bacon, stuck a toothpick through in whatever way seemed like it was most likely to hold together. And broiled them for about 10-12 minutes and turned them once.
The toothpicks got a bit charred but none burst into flame so that was good. Some of the smaller ones were done before the largest, so I took them out in three or so batches. I let them cool for 15 minutes and we ate them warm. I’m not a bit sweets fan, I go for savory over sweet in general, but this was a perfect combo of the sweet dates, the flowery/spicy/crunchy long pepper, and the salty-bacon-ey Broadbent bacon. We each ate our two dates and looked around hoping there might be a few more hidden somewhere! The recipe from the book follows.
BACON DATES from pages 165-66, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon
Taking our passion for bacon a tad bit beyond the now-standard allusions to love and sex, it seems reasonable to go ahead and actually make a real life “date with bacon,” don’t you think? That said, I guess this recipe really is a literal as well as figurative date with bacon (or, actually, if you prepare the whole recipe, 16 dates with bacon). Of course there’s really no limit, since you can multiply the recipe as many times as you like.
Bacon dates are a great little appetizer and extremely easy to make. If you’re up for a “double date” you could serve it for dessert, too—I’ve never thought of using the same dish to both start and end a supper before, but given Americans’ fondness for bacon it sort of makes sense to bacon-end the meal. I love the organic dates from Four Apostles in Bermuda Dunes, California. The sweet smokiness of the bacon with the buttery richness of their ripe dates and the spice of the long pepper gives this finger food a great bit of balance in its flavors.
16 dates, pitted
8 slices bacon (we prefer these with the Broadbent bacon), cut in half crosswise
4 whole Balinese long peppers, quartered lengthwise
Heat the broiler.
Stuff each date with a sliver of long pepper, then wrap with a half-slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place the bacon-wrapped dates on a baking sheet and broil 10 to 15 minutes or until the bacon is crisp, turning once. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!
Remove from the oven once the bacon is done, let cool for a couple of minutes and serve while still warm.