Thursday, July 26, 2012


It’s hard to say the word “prune” without thinking of wrinkles - and plenty of jokes have been written with reference to the elderly and wrinkled prunes. I guess it got so bad that the humourless prune people decided to take steps. Therefore in the super market nowadays, it’s hard to find prunes because they’ve changed the name to “dried plums”. So now it’s okay for all age groups to eat this sweet, rich- tasting, chewy- textured gem. Forget their vast amount of vitamin K, fibre and other nutrients; prunes are delicious stewed in port wine or maneuvered into main dishes. But don’t forget to go easy as they are quite sweet.

Many people love prunes (I mean dried plums) apart from their dessert realm, like for instance in a Moroccan- seasoned, fabulous, spicy, beef and prunes. If your only use of prunes (I have to get used to dried plums; lets pretend they haven’t changed the name yet) is in stuffing or in your morning oatmeal or in rice pilafs; try this beef with prunes Moroccan style and get ready for a marvelous surprise when you cook with them.

The exhilarating flavours of Moroccan-spiced beef and prunes are cherished in my kitchen. I want to share it with you because even if prunes are not your idea of gastronomic goodness you will love this. The prunes actually cook into the sauce.

I don’t recommend eating prunes right out of the box when you are on the road because you’ll get the steering wheel sugar-sticky, making it uncomfortable to drive. Of course if you live in a large metropolitan area you can invite those squeegee-bearing windshield cleaners to wipe down your steering wheel when stopped for a light, but you may prefer not to get so intimate with them, especially if there is no published rate for this particular service. But I digress. Prunes are a seriously scrumptious companion to beef.

Moroccan food employs a spice blend known as ras el hanout (Rahs el hah noot) which is a blend of many spices. I’ve seen the McCormick brand blend in the market or you can make your own. It is akin to an Indian garam masala in that it is made up of many different spices.

Here is a superb Beef with Prunes, Moroccan style recipe that is not too complicated but quite delicious from  It is a good, loving, home-style dish to warm your innards on a cold night. (Or a hot night if you have central air). The prunes give the dish an unexpected eruption of flavour. By the way, this dish could be made with lamb instead of beef and would be excellent. Lamb is non-existent where I live, so beef it is.

Beef and Prunes              serves 4-6


2 pounds braising steak such as chuck or bottom round, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons ras el hanout, store bought, or recipe follows
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 inch piece of ginger root, finely chopped or cut into thin matchsticks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 pound of chopped tomatoes, from your garden or canned
1 can (14 ounce) chickpeas, drained, or: 1 pound of sliced carrots
1 pint of beef stock
1 cup pitted prunes, cut in half
Small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Thinly sliced almonds for topping


  • Put the cubed beef in a large bowl
  • Sprinkle the ras el hanout plus a pinch of black pepper over the meat
  • Mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and put in the icebox
  • Let chill overnight or at least one hour

  • Heat the oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the meat and cook gently for 2 minutes, to brown the meat but not burn the spices.
  • With a slotted spoon remove the meat and place on a plate.
  • Add the onions and cook gently for 2 minutes
  • Add the ginger and cook for one minute
  • Add the garlic and cook for one minute
  • Put the beef back in the pot and add the tomatoes.
  • Stir well, bring to a boil then simmer, covered, for 90 minutes. If you like, you could now put this in a slow-cooker or put dutch-oven in 350F oven.

  • After the 90 minutes has passed, add the chickpeas and prunes.
  • Simmer for an additional 90 minutes. The prunes will cook down and enrich the sauce.
  • Check that there is sufficient liquid in the cooking vessel, adding water if becoming too dry. It should not be soupy or so dry it might scorch.
  • Taste for salt, adding some if necessary.
  • When the cooking is complete, serve this fragrant beauty over couscous or rice, topping each serving with coriander and almonds. Toasted sesame seed is good too.

Ras el hanout


2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Generous pinch saffron threads
In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the ground spices. Crush the saffron threads between clean, dry fingers, sprinkle over the spice mixture, and whisk again.
Transfer the Ras El Hanout to an airtight container, and store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.

BUT WAIT!  If you don’t have all the above spices on your rack, a most basic ras el hanout can be made thusly:

2 teaspoons cumion powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
Whisk together to blend.

Beef and prunes is a terrific homey dish. I hope you will prepare this fabulous delight because You and your guests will love it, and you don’t have to ride the Marrakesh express to get it.

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