Which food makes you giggle? An automatic response because you just don’t want to eat it.
While I have cooked and baked with prunes before, I subconsciously think of my bowels when I see prunes. I know it isn’t just me, because the folks in California have been rebranded prunes as “dried plums“. So many less connotations, while using different words.
Dried dates, apricots and cranberries get a lot of love, but prunes are rarely heralded. It wasn’t until I picked them up on a whim that I remembered how nice they taste. They aren’t as cloyingly sweet as dates or raisins, and have a much more complex flavour: deep and robust.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I love to explore new breakfasts, although I rarely share them these days. I spotted this recipe for stewed prunes with citrus and cinnamon and figured it would be a great topping for my morning oatmeal.
I was drawn to this recipe for stewed prunes because there is no added sugar and the sweetness comes entirely from the prunes and orange. In fact, the sweetness is tempered by including the orange peel in the pot as everything simmers. A dash of cinnamon permeates the succulent compote and melds seamlessly. I halved the original recipe since I didn’t have a pound of prunes. I used half a Navel orange, cut into thin slivers, which delivered a wonderful flavour. Don’t be off-put by including the entire orange, peel and all. It works. Really well.
(I’ve done something similar before, years ago when I made Nigella’s Clementine Cake in which you boil 5 whole clementines (peel and all) for two hours until meltingly soft, add half a dozen eggs, sugar, ground almonds with a dash of baking powder before you throw it into the oven. The cake is oh so moist, not super sweet, but wonderful. Gluten-free baking at its finest, although obviously not vegan.)
Just as Molly suggests, the silky prunes develop a complex flavour throughout its hour-long simmer. Overnight, in the fridge, the flavours meld further. It was a delicious topping for my morning oatmeal and could easily top some yogurt or ice cream, if you are into that, for a delicious dessert. Warm and cold, I loved it both ways.
Other prune recipes that have caught my eye:
Tagine of Yam, Carrot and Prune from Moroccan Food and Cooking
Butter Bean, Prune and Tomato Tagine from Sanitarium
Georgian Red Beans in Sour Prune Sauce in Olive Trees and Honey
Spinach and Prunes with Beans in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Prunes Stuffed with Walnuts in Orange Juice in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
Quinoa Tagine with Chickpeas, Olives and Prunes (Quinoa and Chickpea Marbella) at Diet Dessert n Dogs
Chickpea and Sweet Potato Stew in A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen (recipe here)
Masala Chai Poached Prunes at In Praise of Sardines
Orange-Scented Hazelnut Prune Truffles at Anja’s Food for Thought
What are your favourite ways to enjoy
prunes dried plums?
It is important evolutionarily, actually, because otherwise women wouldn’t go through childbirth a second time!
I am also experiencing amnesia this year. I trained last summer to cycle between Ottawa and Cornwall (325 km) over 2 days. I had wet rides in the rain, tough climbs up hills, and super sore after coming home from Cornwall. But all of that is overshadowed by the triumph of completing such a goal (having done no long distance cycling ever) and how much fun it was to explore the larger GTA by bike with Rob at my side (usually in front, to be precise). It was a wonderful summer.
My goal this year is to cycle from Ottawa to Kingston and back (a hilly 355 km over 2 days) in early June with my father, Rob and some other friends.
Rob and I have tried to get out to cycle, but the rainy weather and work commitments have prevented us a few times. While it was raining all week, Saturday conferred a perfect spring day which we capitalized to do our first (metric) century ride of the year (101 km). I picked one of my favourite routes, up to Aurora, which we adapted to include a trip to Ambrosia, a natural food store that Ricki introduced me to (yes, we adapt cycling routes too, not just recipes!). I have been to the Thornhill location a few times, and figured with their bountiful selection of produce and snacks, it would be a great stopping point for lunch on our cycling trip.
Armed with water bottles filled with homemade sports drink, energy date bars (cocoa fudge and gingerbread recipes to come!) and some hummus for lunch, Rob and I set out for Newmarket with gusto!
Let me tell you, though, I had forgotten how hard it is to do these long cycles. We are keeping these as endurance rides, so I like to ride at an easy pace to be able to last the full ride. I used to be able to cycle 100 km without thinking twice, but now, so early in the season, my legs are sore after an hour. I still have another 5 hours to go. I just get used to the pain and relish the hourly breaks. I would get sore last year, too, I just had forgotten.
As planned, Rob and I stopped at Ambrosia for lunch, and I quickly realized this was not nearly comparable to the wonderful Thornhill location. The only produce they had was organic Romaine lettuce. Gah! My plan to eat a Swiss chard wrap with sprouts and carrots with hummus was foiled! I ended up picking up the lettuce, and scavenged the bulk section for other tasty nibbles. I love picking up things on sale, so I was drawn to the raw almonds and prunes (both on sale). Almonds for crunch and prunes for carbs, I figured. I also picked up a dash of flax seeds for good measure.
And while I had no clue what I was really making, I was incredibly content with the mishmash of ingredients. I used the Romaine leaves as a base, topped it with a lemony-miso hummus, sprinkled some flax seeds overtop and added some almonds and prunes. Rolled it up and devoured. It worked wonderfully together, with both a mix of textures, but also complementary flavours. It was too good not to share with you, even if all I had were travel photos.
The nice surprise, though, afterward, was wandering through the adjacent Filipino food market. This is where I picked up a handful of tiny milk bananas, succulent and sweet, just right for eating. And yes, it also tasted great rolled up in Romaine.
The Aurora loop is great though, because it is a (relatively) painless uphill for the first half, and by the time you are tired, it is mostly downhill with some rolling hills. After our scavenger lunch, we were rested and energized to ride home. I was able to arrive home with enough spare time to clean up and make dinner before my guests arrived. Yes, sometimes I am that nuts. I had forgotten how rough the ride would be, to be honest. A dinner party after a century ride. I think I’ll just remember how great it was to finally have my brother and sister-in-law over for dinner.
My last post was written a while ago… one of my many recipes from the draft folder. And while these fruit, nut and seed bars were made later in the summer as well, I am writing this post after biking the double imperial century ride from Ottawa to Cornwall and back. The big kahuna. The grand finale.
And I did it!!
It was such an amazing feeling to accomplish such a feat, especially since I only started long distance cycling this year. If I can do it, anyone can!
What was more amazing during this ride, though, is that I learned how great it is to cycle in a group. Usually I bike with 1-2 other people, but we just have fun while cycling, stopping when we want, etc.
This was different.
My Dad and I joined the Touring 1 group for the Imperial Century Route (160km). The posted average speed was going to be 23-26 km/h. I usually get around 23km/h which is really not that fast but I can’t seem to do any better. I can do 26km/h average when mainly downhill…. but not when I factor in going back uphill! Hills are my weakness.
So there were 6 of us in the group. Totally not a beginner group (um, what kind of beginner would be cycling 320km??). A and T were both older gentlemen who enjoy cycling and were along for the ride. Strong cyclists but always reminding us to have fun! H was going for a ‘hat trick’ award. This year, she had already cross-country skiied 160km over 2 days, ran a marathon, and once she did the double imperial century, she was all set! Her friend L came along for the ride – but she had only done the shorter routes before. My dad has done the Cornwall and Kingston rides for 10 years, so he’s very strong.. and then there’s me!
It is mainly flat, but I found it quite windy. Being in a group of 6 (3 pairs), we rotated routinely, and were able to draft off of each other. The hills at the end had me struggling a bit, especially when I fell out of formation but the group would wait at the top and my Dad would try to deflect some of the wind off me. Once you lose the group, it is even more hard to join up again! We left at 0800 and arrived in Cornwall at 1600. Not bad at all. I was very pleased! 165km. 4 breaks, including a longer one for a flat tire. Average speed 26.1 km/h.
We lost and added a person for our return ride. T wanted to do the 120km and J joined us from the faster group. There were 60 people doing this ride and we were the only group doing the 160km back. We had 1 other person, biking solo, pass us, so most people picked the 120km back.
Anyways, we got the hills over with at the beginning and the route was mostly the same but it did change in some places as well.
In the end, our stats were: Left at 0730. Arrived at 1430 (imagine that!!) with 4 breaks. 162 km. Average 26.6 km/h! By 124 km, our average was 27.0 km/h! But it rained the last 30km, so we slowed a bit.
The group was really fantastic. Very encouraging and never dropped me despite being the weakest in the group. In fact, they were great about whisking me along. I felt a bit like Lance Armstrong as people tried to figure out where to position me in the group to capitalize on my strengths. There was a LOT more wind this time and sometimes it helped us! Our max speed was 39km/h which we got on a flat.
In conclusion, it was a great end of season trip. While I won’t be putting away my bike just yet (I hope to keep commuting until December, at least until the snow arrives), I am also not entirely sure where to go from here. I am considering investing in a nice road bike, but we’ll see.
Now about these bars! I spotted them at Enlightened Cooking. They were a nice change of pace from the date-heavy bars, with a citrusy burst from the orange juice and the apricots. The seeds and almonds provided a nice crunch as well. They were a bit more moist then some of my other bars this year as well.
One of my goals is to try every single vegetable and fruit at Bestwin, a local grocery store that has tons of ethnic food spanning India to Japan to Thailand. I oftentimes have no clue what they are, nor what to do with them, so it will definitely be a challenge. I stopped by this week and noticed okra was on sale, so I picked some up to start my cuisine challenge. Thankfully I also had 2 cookbooks in my trunk so I quickly looked for an appealing recipe with okra and made sure to get all the ingredients.
Okra is native to Africa but is used in Middle Eastern, Indian and African cuisine. While okra is commonly served with tomato, I adapted a Syrian Jewish sweet and sour recipe with okra, prunes and apricots in a tamarind sauce from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck (the original recipe has also been posted here by the Jewish Book Council). There is some tomato paste as well, so the classic tomato flavour is there as well. I thought the sauce was fabulous with the sweet apricots and prunes, with the sour tang from the tamarind. The bit of tomato pasta also added a bit of homeliness to the dish. The sauce worked well with the delicious okra.
The sweet and sour sauce took a while to prepare but the long cooking meant there was no need for any additional sugar as the sweetest was entirely from the fruits. I served this with a bed of rice as a meal, but I think next time I’d love to add a bean like chickpeas to the mixture. It can also be served as a side dish to an elaborate meal.
I was a bit worried about the okra after reading about its acquired tasted and its gooey characteristics if opened, but I didn’t have any problems. The try to minimize any mucilaginous texture, quickly spray with water when washing and quickly pan-fry them with a bit of oil. Keeping them intact while cooking is also important, and shaking the pan instead of stirring helps. A few of my larger okra where a bit tough and stringy, so I should have heeded Dweck’s advice to purchase the smallest okra possible. When I was in Turkey, they were each an inch or two long and I hear in Syria they are even smaller. Here in Canada, they were much longer but still good. Frozen baby okra could also be an option.
To be fair, I don’t normally travel with cookbooks in my trunk, but I was enroute from buying them. I couldn’t be more happy with my purchases. This was the second recipe I have tried from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck, and I was not disappointed (the first was Eggs Scrambled with Rhubarb). Aromas of Aleppo is a unique cookbook featuring Jewish Syrian cuisine.
As the last Jews left Aleppo in 1997 and took their cuisine with them, this makes the cookbook a treasure trove of historical dishes. Dweck is keeping the Syrian Jewish culinary traditions alive through recipes pulled together from the expatriated community, a project which began over 30 years ago. Syrian Jews separate themselves from other Sephardic Jews through their flavourful dishes, with their unique uses of tamarind, cherries, and spices such as allspice, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom. What’s not to love?