Moroccan With a Twist

By Anna Dantoni –

sharing-moroccoRuth Barnes, who is known to family and fans as the Petite Gourmande because she is both, is the author of a new cookbook called Sharing Morocco, Exotic Flavors from My Kitchen to Yours. The 57-year-old is well qualified as a cook and a culinary historian for the project she set for herself. Her family lived in Morocco for many decades before immigrating to Israel to follow Ruth’s brother who had settled there. Ruth grew up in Israel and later moved to the United States where she lives today with her husband and daughter. This book is her homage to the Moroccan food that is her heritage.

But because Barnes lives a modern life and knows that cooks today do not have the time to spend cooking in Middle Eastern traditional ways, she has simplified Moroccan family recipes for today’s time challenged cook. For example, she no longer makes phyllo dough from scratch and says you don’t need to either. Store-bought phyllo will work just fine. She buys pre-mixed spice blends and her tagines can be prepared in less time than her grandmother’s. She will often double a recipe and freeze half for a meal next week. Barnes calls the recipes in her book authentic but says they are “Moroccan, but with a modern twist.”  Her book has plenty of history about Moroccan dishes, useful and attractive color photos, and the recipes are indeed easy to make and sound absolutely delicious. This is a great beginner’s exploration of classic Middle East cuisine that you can make in your modern kitchen.


Moroccan-Style Beef with Prunes

beefwithprunes(serves 6)

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

1 large onion, sliced

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 pint fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 (5-pound) beef roast

1 teaspoon ras el hanout (a spice blend available online or at spice stores. See recipe below)

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup pitted dry prunes

1 cup dry red wine

3 bay leaves

2 cups low-sodium beef stock


Preheat over to 350 degrees. Put the celery, carrots, onion, garlic and mushrooms in a Dutch oven. Place the meat on top of the vegetables. In a mixing bowl, combine the ras el hanout, paprika, salt and pepper and sprinkle the mixture all over the meat and vegetables. Add the tomatoes, prunes, wine, bay leaves and beef stock. Cover and cook in the over for 2 hours. Remove the mean from the oven, let it cool and then slice. Place on a serving platter surrounded by the prune sauce.


F&M note:  Ras el Hanout

This spice blend can have as many as 20 ingredients and the blend varies with geographic locations or the expertise and creativity of the spice maker. In Moroccan open-air markets, some spice sellers become famous based on their secret blends of ras el hanout. So, feel free to experiment with your own sweet, bitter, or hot spices. Below is an all-purpose recipe and a good base to start from.

RasElHanout1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

In a small bowl whisk together all ingredients until combined well. Spice blend keeps in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 month.


Butternut Squash with Chickpeas

butternut2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 small butternut squash, skin removed, seeded and flesh but into 1-inch cubes

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, washed and drained

2 cups chicken stock

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the squash, cinnamon, salt, pepper and chickpeas. Add the chicken stock, lower the heat, and simmer for 25 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm.


Meatballs and Olives with Rice Pilaf

meatballs1 pound ground beef

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ bunch cilantro chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1medium onion, grated

1 (8-10-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (16-ounce) can green olives, drained

1 cup uncooked rice pilaf

½ cup roasted pine nuts


In a mixing bowl, combine the meat, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, cilantro, salt, pepper, and onion and mix well. With an ice cream scoop, form the meat mixture into small balls. Place the tomato sauce in a medium saucepan. Add the olives and meatballs and simmer for 40 minutes on low heat. While the meatballs are cooking, prepare the rice according to the directions on the package. Add the pine nuts to the rice pilaf and place on a serving platter with the meatballs on top.


Saffron Rice with Raisins

2 cups long grain rice

4 cups water

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

4 threads saffron

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

½ cup roasted pine nuts

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup toasted, slivered almonds

Put the rice, water, salt, pepper and saffron into a medium-large saucepan. Cook the rice according to the directions on the package. While the rice is cooking, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan on medium-high heat and saute the onion for 5 minutes or until translucent. When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the onion, pine nuts, raisins and almonds. Mix well. Cover the pan and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Pair this rice with beef or lamb.


(Sharing Morocco by Ruth Barnes. Hardcover. Greenleaf Book Group Press, Austin, Texas. $29.95)





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