The little piles of sesame seeds atop the prunes are the traditional way of garnishing the dish.
We’re baaaaaaacccckkkkk…. and what a relief it is. Thank you for all of the expressions of support. The wires are back in the walls; the holes are patched and the patches are… well, they’ll be painted soon. Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes, Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef with Prunes and Ras el Hanout. Before we stumbled through an invisible portal into the Gehenna of wiring, longtime Rialto employee Mohammed Karachi and his family shared a leisurely Sunday morning with us, while Mohammed’s wife Layla walked Jody through their Moroccan family recipe for braised short ribs, using ras el hanout from Mohammed’s mother. What a treat! The spicy and sweet components are kept separate until just before the dish is served. Do you want a forkful of beef with Moroccan seasoning and a bit of prune at the same time? Or first the spicy, then the sweet? It’s comforting either way.
Ras el hanout means “head of the shop,” and the spice blend is supposed to be the best of a vendor’s wares, or as Mohammed put it, “It’s the boss of all spices.” Like curry in India, ras el hanout is an ubiquitous undercurrent in Moroccan cuisine. You taste it in tagines, the country’s stews (with preserved lemons!), in bistella (b’stella, bisteeya, etc.), the iconic chicken and almond pie made with phyllo dough, in soups and vegetables. If you’re a glutton for mortar-and-pestle punishment you can make your own–the web abounds with recipes. However, while the common denominators are turmeric, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, several different kinds of pepper, cumin and fenugreek, any made-in-Morocco version will likely contain at least a few selections from a raft of obscure additions like
eye of newt, the hand of a hanged man, nine tana leaves, orris root, monk’s pepper, chufa (a tuber cultivated in Spain, the primary ingredient in horchata), cubebs (another kind of pepper), dried rosebuds and grains of paradise. Even assuming I could get my hands on all this stuff, I’d still have to ask, Why bother? Other people can do it better, and sell it to me in small, usable quantities. Mainstream spice brands now sometimes offer their own versions of ras el hanout in supermarkets, but frankly I’m more inclined to buy it online, from a business that specializes in Middle Eastern spice combinations. At least until Mohammed coughs up his mother’s email address. Enjoy. Ken
Layla and Mohammed’s Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef
with Prunes and Ras el Hanout
- 4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs (ideally, a rib per person)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups red onions, cut into ½-inch dice
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- ¼ cup minced fresh ginger
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- ½ teaspoon saffron
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground tumeric
- 1/8 teaspoon ras el hanout
- 4 cups beef or chicken broth or water
- ½ pound prunes (preferably unpitted)
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- Cilantro sprigs for garnish
- Season the beef all over with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large braising pan. Sear the meat all over until lightly browed, about 4 minutes per side. Add the onions and cook until tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 4 minutes. Add the saffron, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, turmeric and ras el hanout. Add 3 tablespoons of each of the herbs. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup water or broth. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups broth or water, cover with a lid. Cook on medium-low, 3 hours or so, turning the meat now and then. If things start to stick, add a little more stock or water. The meat is done when it is tender and just starts falling off the bone. If the juices are too thin, turn up the heat and reduce them until they thicken.
- While the meat is braising, bring 1½ cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the prunes and cinnamon stick, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the water is reduced to ¼ cup. The prunes should still hold their shape. Add the sugar and remaining ground cinnamon, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook 10 minutes.
- Transfer the meat to a warm tagine or large serving dish with sides and pour the juices into a clear measuring cup. Allow the fat to rise to the surface. Pour or spoon off the fat and discard. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the meat and sprinkle with the remaining herbs. Arrange the prunes around the meat. Put a small pinch of sesame seeds on each prune and sprinkle the remaining over the meat. Garnish with cilantro sprigs.
Mohammed Karachi and I have worked together for almost 20 years. In the early years, we worked side by side in the kitchen during dinner service. He was a runner, delivering trays to the dining room, while I expedited, calling out which orders to cook next to the line cooks and then loading the trays as each order became ready. Both of us had more energy than we know what to do with, so if things were slow we could both get quite silly. Now we’re older, wiser and, for the most part, behave like adults.
When I decided to invite guests into our blog kitchen, I knew I wanted to start with Mohammed. For years I’ve listened to him describe what he cooks for his wife and daughters, and I wanted to taste some of his cooking for myself. After several conversations, we settled on this recipe, and then he made a confession: it was really Layla’s recipe and she should cook it with me.
We had such a good time. I had made a batch of the ribs earlier in the day to ensure we would have a completed recipe since it takes so many hours to cook. So after getting the second batch going and the prunes done, we all sat down for a late lunch, accompanied by batbout, traditional Moroccan bread that Layla had made for us. It was delicious and I was so excited when Layla told me I did a good job!
It might seem odd for a recipe that calls for ras el hanout would include additional turmeric and cinnamon, but the spice blend is used very discretely. Like saffron, its flavor should be present, but just barely.
Beef short ribs should be fatty, but fatty in the right way. Look for intramuscular fat, the kind that shows up as marbling in the meat, but not so much that it looks like the meat is marbling the fat. You can see what I mean in the photos. Likewise, make sure most of the intermuscular fat (the kind that’s on the outside) is trimmed away.
What a recipe. Wow. I have no idea what short ribs are in French (just looked it up in the dictionary and online and it seems that cut simply doesn’t exist in France) but the whole stew, with those flavors, the prunes… looks truly delicious! I love all those pictures of Jody, Mohammed, and Layla chopping, chopping, and then chopping some more!
Thank you, Darya. Actually, Mohammed was kind of standing around, so the ladies put him to work chopping ginger. We had a really great time and we plan on doing more cooking by invitation. Jody’s staff is so diverse. There’s a waiting list about 5 posts deep of folks from different parts of the world who want to do something traditional from their homeland. Ken
Welcome back…recipe looks awesome and I love shortribs…..will definitely make them soon! My go to recipe is the one from In the Hands of a Chef so now I will have another one to add to the list!
Great photos as always…BA
You know, I had never eaten short ribs until I met Jody. But they are good, if they’re not too fatty. Ask me for some ras el hanout–I’m sure I have more on the way than I can use in the short term. Ken
Looks heavenly. I love the fusion of salty and sweet – fruit with meats. Welcome back. Great recipe and I’m in your camp re buying Ras el Hanout!
Hi, Torie–Glad you like the dish. We ate one preparation (we made two), then I immediately froze the second, fearing that if I left it in the fridge I’d eat the entire thing myself over the course of this next week. Re ras el hanout, I suspect you have more local options in that department than we do. You’re certainly closer to the source. I’m actually pretty excited about trying the online vendor I linked to in the post–if his ras el hanout measures up, then I’ll also try some other even more offbeat combinations–some African, some Indian. Thanks for the comment. Ken
So glad to have you back. Your blog is so inspiring. Very good to know about the short ribs. I’ve never trimmed mine before. At some point I probably would have tried to make the spice mixture, even with the eye of gnute (sp?), so I’m glad you’ve convinced me otherwise! What lovely friends you have. I need better ones.
Eye of gnute. Ha! (It sound like you just blinded a computer programmer.) Mohammed and are very sweet. I didn’t mention it in the blog, but she was a joy to photograph for the way she flung the spices into the pot, her entire fingers covered in whatever she was using. Thank you for the kind words about the blog. Not posting left a gap in our lives. Ken
Welcome back and welcome to Mohammed and family. 20 years?! Maybe we’ve known him close to that long then. Wow. This recipe looks great. Thanks to everyone.
I know! Amazing, isn’t it? This is a great dish, really a treat. The cool thing about it is you can chop up the leftovers and have an instant wild sauce for coating pappardelle noodles. If there are any leftovers, that is… Ken
Beautiful, though it’s a shame you didn’t use hand of a hanged man because I think it would really make the dish. Could I use lamb instead of beef? Or have I missed the point entirely…? I’m thinking lamb and prunes. Anyhow, a lovely post and riproaring photos. Sophie
Thank you, Sophie. Meat with prunes is a classic Moroccan tagine combo, and it comes in two forms – beef or lamb. Same recipe, different meat, so have at it. However, with lamb you do have to use the 9 tana leaves (hint: Boris Karloff). Have fun. Ken
This is so beautiful. What a great idea to invite people into the kitchen and share the experience. I like cooking with Ras el hanout. I put it on a lot of vegetables in stews. Short ribs are so delicious. I know what you mean about collecting ingredients and asking why bother? but it’s fun. The best horchata I ever had was actually made out of almonds, not chufa. I loved the diversion from the original. What a beautiful post. Welcome back!
Thank you, Amanda. It is fun, if you have time, and it gives you a visceral sense of the cuisine that you don’t get if you just buy the seasoning blends. However, I have to admit that I’m much more confident about that sort of thing if I’ve either had the food in its native context, or eaten it when it’s been prepared by somebody who knows that context. Without that grounding, I never know if I’ve gotten it right or inadvertently produced something that locals would find laughable. One thing about this recipe, for example, was Layla observing that people have a tendency to add too much Ras el Hanout. I would never have known, if she hadn’t pointed it out. Re horchata – American horchata is usually made with almonds (I’ve never even heard of an alternative). Many years ago I discovered sesame horchata in Guatemala, and I understand there’s a rice version made in Mexico, but I’ve never tasted it. Chufa is new to me, and sounded a little bizarre until I found an image of “tigernuts” (chufa is the plant; it produces “tigernuts”). They look liked shriveled almonds. Horchata de chufa made perfect sense. Ken
Great response. I think in the US they use pine nuts mostly and then in Latin America, they use rice. So interesting. It’s all wonderful, but the almond one I had was in Sevilla and it was just delicious! I totally hear you about attempting something you’ve never done before and having no basis for judgment. But I still think it’s worth the experimentation.
I think steps 2 and 3 might be switched. :)
Thank you, Michele. Now you know why neither Jody nor I will ever be a proofreader. You were correct – the steps have since been put into the correct order. I owe you a drink. Ken
Jody and Ken, What a beautiful recipe and shared cooking experience. The flavors sound lovely, deep, complex and earthy “ras el hanout” blend and enticing dried plums. A little sweetness always balances out richness in meat. The batbout looks amazing – almost as good as the short ribs! Jody’s notes are very helpful and informative, particularly bit looking for intramuscular fat. The photos show the wonderful bond between your families; twenty years: wow! Best, Shanna
I asked Layla if she had brought “Moroccan English muffins.” She laughed and agreed, “They do look like that.” I’ve looked at a couple of batbout recipes online, which appear that complicated. Layla’s look a bit yellow–and I noticed that some of the recipes suggest using semolina flour . Glad you found the short ribs notes helpful. I had never gone near them until I met Jody; now they’re one of my favorite braising meats.
Beautiful recipe, you are making me hungry! Your photos are always bright and colourful, I love them :)
Thank you, Catherine. I stopped by your blog–nice photos too! Ken
What a colourful recipe! But then, you can make stews look good. Mine just look…stewed. Definitely keeping this one for a dinner party, even if I haven’t had Moroccan food in its native context it’s worth having a go for something that sounds as good as this.
Clearly you’re not running your stews through Lightroom before you serve them. :-) Although, even I was impressed by the color of this–and Layla’s fingers–when the spices started hitting the pan. Ken
Fantastic post. Not just because you are back, nor because of the usual world class photography but because you communicate exactly what cooking (and for me, food blogging) is all about.
I also wholeheartedly approve of getting the troops in to do the cutting. Why can’t I do that?
Thanks for the compliment, Conor. And, because sympathetic minds think alike, a sense of humor helps too. Regarding the collective chopping, Mohammed is the kind of guy who always needs a job–so we gave him one! Ken
Welcome back, glad you got all the work on the house done ok. Fabulous post, thanks, I love Moroccan food and the beef looks terrific. I don’t think we get short ribs as a cut in the UK, our loss.
Thank you, Linda. That’s interesting about not getting short ribs as a cut of beef in England. I’d always realized that continental butchering differed from American, but I guess I always assumed that English and American cuts were, with minor differences, the same. I’ll have to look into it further. Thanks. Ken
I’ll have to ask my friendly local butcher, I may be talking out of my fundament. You have quite a few cuts over there which are either different or have different names, I’m not always sure.
Beautiful colors. Glad the lights are back on.
Thanks, Michelle. And the dust gone. Don’t forget about the dust. I think I can live without lights easier than I can live with dust. :-) Ken
Fantastic. With great restraint there will be leftovers. Gotta love Somerville, a short Saturday walk fetched the shortribs from MF Dulock (www.mfdulock.com) whole animal butcher shop and ras el hanout from the winter farmer’s market courtesy of http://www.solunagardenfarm.com/
Wow, Tom, major score on all fronts. I’ll have to check out your spice source–that’s great–and your whole animal butcher shop. I’ve never heard of them, obviously an oversight on my part. Let me know how it turns out. Ken
I like everything about this recipe, including the color of the tajine :)
Thank you, Rosemary. The turmeric and ras el hanout made this easy to photograph. Ken
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