Spin doctors make over prunes in time for a holiday favorite
Has anyone noticed that prunes have disappeared from the supermarket?
They’ve been replaced by “dried plums,” thanks to the clever efforts of some marketing gurus working for the California Prun…er, I mean ‘Dried Plum’ trade association. While normally this is the kind of slick food marketing practice I deplore, I forgive these marketers for two important reasons:
- Prunes are an incredibly healthy food that get unfairly snubbed due to a nagging and unfortunate PR problem
- Prunes are a starring ingredient in a version of Hamentaschen, the triangle-shaped, filled cookies that we Jewish people eat to celebrate a holiday called Purim, which happens to be tomorrow, Tuesday March 10, 2009.
Your grandma was right
The thing about certain stereotypes that’s so infuriating is that sometimes they’re kind of true. Like the one about prunes being food for ‘old people.’ Indeed, my only exposure to prunes has been via my late Grandma Esther (of salmon croquettes fame), who used prunes in all sorts of cooked stews and as a filling for her homemade Hamentaschen, which she baked with us on many occasions.
In her memory, I thought I’d share her hamentaschen dough recipe (which I’ve successfully made gluten-free in the past just by substituting GF all-purpose flour) and share some thoughts on why ‘dried plums’ deserve a place in our collective trail mix alongside the pretty and lovable dried apricots, cherries, cranberries and mango slices.
Give (dried) plums a chance
- Dried plums are one of the best food sources of potassium, an important electrolyte that is especially important to regulate blood pressure. A diet high in potassium and low in sodium is the foundation for an eating pattern that helps people with hypertension reduce their blood pressure.
- Dried plums are one of nature’s best remedies for constipation. And let’s be honest: this is NOT a problem that only older people have. (If it were, then those ridiculous Danon Activia yogurt commercials wouldn’t be on TV every five seconds.) They ‘encourage’ the bowel with 3g of fiber per serving of 5 dried plums, and contain a mix of both insoluble fiber (which speeds things along and draws water into the gut) AND soluble fiber (which helps lower blood cholesterol and slows down stomach emptying to help make you feel full). Additionally, dried plums contain a natural sugar alcohol called sorbitol, which tastes sweet but is not well-absorbed in our intestines. Unabsorbed sugars draw water into the gut (remember osmosis from 8th grade biology?), which has a laxative effect. The result is that dried plums promote regular and soft poo on top of the other health benefits they offer. Woo hoo!
- Finally, dried plums are a surprisingly decent source of iron. Those same 5 dried plums contain ~1.2mg of iron, which is 15% of the daily value (for adult males; it’s only ~7% of the value for for adult females aged 19-50.). As luck would have it, the iron from vegetarian sources is notoriously poorly absorbed, but if you chase your dried plums with some OJ (or another vitamin-C rich food or drink), you can maximize the absorption potential. Similarly, don’t couple your dried plum snack with coffee or tea (even though they sound so delicious together), as the tannins will have an inhibitory effect on iron absorption.
OK! Enough prune prostheletyzing!
As promised, here is grandma’s Hamentaschen dough recipe. It makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the circle you cut.
3 cups flour (you may substitute a gluten-free all purpose flour here, like Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup (!!) sugar**
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp vanilla
** if you want to cut the sugar by half to make these a bit less sinful, I’ve made this swap to terrific results: substitute 1/2 cup agave nectar for the 1 cup of sugar, and reduce the amount of orange juice to 3 TBSP and reduce the oil to 6 TBSP. The dough will seem a bit sticky at first, but once it’s chilled and then worked on the floured surface, it becomes beautiful and super easy to work with.
“Get it all together.” (Those were her only instructions. So I will embellish and say that once your dough is mixed, refrigerate it (covered) for about 30 minutes, then roll it out with a lightly floured rolling pin onto a flat, lightly flour-ed surface. Use the bottom of a small drinking glass to cut circles out of the dough, and keep re-kneading the dough scraps and re-rolling it until you can’t make any more circles.)
Alas, grandma Esther neglected to leave behind a written copy of her prune filling recipe. (Oh, the irony.) So I turned to Joan Nathan, the diva of Jewish cooking, to borrow one from her (click the link for the recipe). Of course, if you’re feeling lazy, just use any old jam or fruit paste (fig would be tasty) that tickles your fancy, but go easy, as jams tend to become very liquid in the oven and could leak out of your hametaschen if you add too much. Poppy seed fillings are also traditional, and you may even be able to find a store-bought filling if your grocery store sells specialty/European products. I’ve also had great success with my homemade Cranberry Fig Jam as a hamentaschen filling, so get the recipe here.
Once your filling situation is all sorted, drop a dollop of whatever you chose in the center of your dough circles, pinch three dough corners together to form an open-faced triangle, and bake on a greased cookie pan in a 350-degree oven until they’re golden brown (10-15 minutes).
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