I may no longer be seven years old, but I am still dewy eyed in the face of chocolate. I’m also very, very dew eyed when presented with a salted chocolate caramel combination. These nut clusters are made without heaps of refined sugar and oil, but they don’t connote the grudgingness that ‘healthy’ often equated to when I was a kid. Healthy often looked like carrot sticks and sour apple slices and it was not fun. If it’s worth anything, I think I’d make my 8 year old self proud with this recipe; the all too straightforward and bland crunch of a dry carrot has been replaced by a matrix of rich, chewy, crunchy, sweet, and salty.
Kids are often labeled picky eaters and put down for their undeveloped palettes, but I think we (‘adults’) can learn a thing or two from them. It’s easy (and honestly sometimes fun) to get caught up in the swing of intricate dishes and complex flavor combinations; there is a thrill in all of that, but there’s also a special, unassuming quality to simplicity that ought not go overlooked. I’m no self-proclaimed philosopher, so I’ll try to spare the tangential thoughts, but I think what I’m trying to get at is that, *perhaps* it’s no wonder the simpler, mama-used-to-make-that kind of dishes are the ones that hold a special place in people’s hearts. If you give most kids free reign to choose what they want for dinner or snack, they’ll likely say pizza or pasta or brownies or ice-cream. Each food stands on it’s own, stripped of convoluted wording (which I know I tend towards) and ingredients. For some reason, those straightforward foods from our childhoods become cemented on our tongues and hearts and minds. White chocolate will always be awe-inducing for me and salted caramel will always remind me of happy summers spent on the Oregon coast. It’s easy to dismiss seemingly ‘easy’ dishes as boring and unexciting, but at the end of the day, they’re what we usually choose to come back to.
Perhaps there’s an unseen comfort submerged in the homemade, love-filled pumpkin soup you first tasted as a child. How pureed roasted pumpkin can be so powerful, I don’t know. Calling attention to the mysteriousness that underlies a day to day activity such as eating adds more depth to my life; making soup can sometimes feel straightforward and mundane, but as soon as you incorporate emotion and memory inducing flavors into the mix, you have a bizarrely magical soup on your hands.
While I’m sure my eight year old self wouldn’t have specifically craved dark chocolate coated date-caramel nut clusters, she would have definitely daydreamed about salted caramel ice-cream and Hershey’s chocolate bars. And so, as a nod to my little kid self, I decided to dress up my childhood cravings in velvety chocolate and gooey date caramel. I tasted these clusters and wondered how can something taste so wonderful? Even though I put them together and anticipated how they’d taste, I couldn’t help but be struck by their spot-on sweet umaminess. You may not have revered salted caramel and chocolate as much as I did as a kid, but it’s never too late to imprint yourself with new, awe-inspiring flavors. At the end of the day, when the lights are out and we’ve got the covers pulled up to our chins, we’re still wide-eyed little kids, aren’t we?
1 cup unsalted nuts of choice (I like a mix of hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds, but pick whatever suits your fancy!)
1 cup chopped dates* (medjool or deglet noor will work)
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1-2 tbsps brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or other sticky liquid sweetener
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I enjoy 70% cacao)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 heaped tsp red or white miso paste*
Pinch or two of flaky salt for topping
*If your dates aren’t super gooey and soft, soak them in warm water for about 10 min before pureeing them
*If you don’t have miso paste on hand, you could replace it with salt (gradually add it to taste pinch by pinch), but I do think the miso adds a unique, subtle flavor that salt can’t perfectly replicate