Not only do these zucchini oat muffins taste good, you’ll feel good eating one to start your day or as a healthful snack. (Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

Not only do these zucchini oat muffins taste good, you’ll feel good eating one to start your day or as a healthful snack. (Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post)

How to make delicious muffins that are actually good for you

However healthy it may seem, the presence of shredded zucchini in a quick bread or muffin doesn’t make it good for you. Most are still essentially forms of cake, held up with lots of butter, refined flour and sugar.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing once in a while, but for everyday breakfast and snacking you probably want something more nutritious and less dessert-like. The problem is that truly healthy muffins and quick breads — with or without zucchini — are often disappointing: dry, leaden and rubbery.

Not so with these. They are the best of both worlds, genuinely good for you but also desirably moist, tender and fragrant. Lightly sweetened, flecked with zucchini, and made with healthy oil, whole grain flour and rolled oats, they have a wholesome sensibility and hearty texture that pulls them away from the dessert realm into the daily sustenance category, in a good way.

Not only do they taste good, you’ll feel good eating one of these zucchini muffins to start your day or fuel you midafternoon.

They get most of their sweetness from dried dates, which also provide a deep flavor, valuable nutrients and fiber. The dates are soaked in water, then pureed until they form a smooth paste. Just a little white sugar — a quarter of what is in a typical recipe — is needed to round out the muffin’s flavor.

Soft whole-grain pastry flour keeps the crumb tender, while rolled oats add a rustic texture and walnuts an element of crunch.

The zucchini (which needs to be drained of most of its water), eggs, oil and date paste together provide enough liquid so that no milk is needed.

The tasty, cinnamon-scented muffins make for an energizing on-the-go treat, so do yourself a favor and make an extra batch. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and freeze so you have one to grab when you need it.

Zucchini oat muffins

These tender, fragrant muffins are sweetened primarily with dates, which, besides sweetness, provide deep flavor and valuable nutrients. Made with whole grains and healthful oil, the muffins have a wholesome sensibility and hearty texture that steps away from the dessert realm into the daily sustenance category, in a good way. They not only taste good, they are a nourishing and energizing way to start your day or fuel your afternoon.

1 cup packed pitted dates

Boiling water

1¼ cups coarsely grated zucchini (1 medium zucchini)

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

⅓ cup neutral-tasting oil, such as light olive oil or canola oil

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Make ahead: The date paste can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks in advance.

Place the dates in a medium bowl. Pour enough boiling water over them to cover and let soak for 1 hour. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the soaking liquid, then drain the dates well.

Combine the dates and the reserved liquid in a food processor (mini, preferably) and puree to form a smooth paste, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides, as needed.

Place the grated zucchini in a colander in the sink; let drain for 20 minutes, then gather it up in your hands to extract as much moisture as possible.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a standard-size, 12-well muffin pan at hand. Lightly grease the wells with cooking oil spray or line them with baking paper cups.

Stir together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.

Stir together all the date paste, eggs and oil in a mixing bowl until incorporated, then stir in the grated, drained zucchini. Add the flour mixture and stir until no trace of it remains, then stir in the walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly among the wells. Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 servings. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Nutrition per muffin: 220 calories, 4 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 12 grams sugar.

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