Monday, July 05, 2010

Rhubarb and Beyond

Rhubarb, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I admit: I was always a bit skeptical about rhubarb. The stalks look like nothing more than overgrown Swiss chard stalks, and when cooked I was never overwhelmed by the flavour OR texture. It always seemed more of a kind of a filler for strawberry baked goods than an entity of its own.

But three weeks ago, I found rhubarb at the West End Farmer’s Market that was so plump, red and thick that I overcame my prejudices and got 4 stalks, along with a basket of strawberries, all from the same farmers. I looked up a few recipes but it wasn’t until the morning of the following Saturday that I actually did anything with them (summer berry & rhurabr crumble, recipe will appear here soon).

When I set to slice the ruby-coloured stalks, I expected nothing besides a 2 minute long kitchen chore. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. As the knife’s blade cut through those stems, a fragrance was released – so peculiar, and strange yet appealing – that my jaw dropped right to the kitchen floor. It smelled like crisp grass, unripe berries or fruit and ozone. The latter element is what makes it every so slightly repulsive and ever so much more interesting and not at all like its earthly Swiss chard friends.

I baked my crumble, and although I enjoyed it quite a bit, there was very little of the fresh rhubarb aroma left after the baking. So I thought – why not leave rhubarb in the raw and eat it this way?

My research for raw rhubarb recipes did not lead to much, except for a little vague recipe for a “fresh rhubarb compote” that the author had at Rendevouz.

One word of caution about rhubarb in general though, is that you must remove all leafy parts, as these are toxic (regardless of cooked or raw). The stalks are not toxic when raw, but most people do not appreciate the distinctive flavour and aroma of this peculiar vegetable and add plenty of sugar and cook it to death. I think that raw rhubarb feels like eating a modern perfume, only better because there are no synthetics involved.

Below is how I made it, two days ago. It finally was ready today and I had it for desserts and enjoyed every crispy, crunchy bite of the fragrant and tart rhubarb. And another good part is the bejeweled appearance of this salad - with ruby-like cranberries and citrine slices of apricot.

Rhubarb Salad, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

First of all, be sure to select the freshest, most plump and brightly red rhubarb stalks for this recipe. This is important for both the flavour and the texture, as this rhubarb will not be undergoing any cooking whatsoever. The following recipe will make 4 people curiously satisfied.

2 Fresh Rhubarb Stalks, thinly slices
6 Dried Apricots, sliced
2 Tbs. Dried Cranberries
2 Tbs. Honey
2 Tbs. Cointreau or Grand Marnier liquor
1 Tbs. Gin
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves

Rinse the stalks and scrape any unsightly browned bruises they may have.
Slice very thinly.
Add cranberries, sliced dried apricots, the honey and liquors. Sprinkle rosemary leaves all over the rhubarb and fruit. Seal in an airtight container and marinate in the fridge for 2 days. Be sure to shake and container twice a day for the flavours and juices to thoroughly flavour the entire salad.

Serve chilled, on its own or with a dollop of Crème Fraiche on the top.

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At July 06, 2010 1:38 AM, Blogger Rose said...

Hello- I absolutely love rhubarb but it is quite a distinctive and unusual taste. I think you very much have to eat it in season because otherwise the texture is much too stringy and the taste too bitter/ sharp. The stringyness can be partially avoided by stewing to death but that's a shame.

I have never eaten it raw, though perhaps I should try!

I agree about the smell being unusual and hard to place, it's not quite fruity in the full, ripe sense. Likewise the taste is somewhat perfumed but people who don't like floral tastes seem to like rhubarb.

Sophie Dahl had a recipe for rhubarb and rosewater eton mess which I'm keen to try because i think rosewater might give a roundness to the rhubarb

At July 06, 2010 8:19 AM, Blogger queen_cupcake said...

Glad to hear that you've discovered the joys of rhubarb! I never liked it much until I grew it in my garden. Still cannot tolerate it without at least a little sugar, but it is a lovely thing to make into pies, cobblers, etc. I could never see the sense in cooking strawberries though. They turn to mush and lose their lovely fragrance. Much better to use lemons or pineapple (try it sometime!).

Okay, here is a little note from the Spelling Police: it's stalk, not stock. Sorry, can't help it. :-)

I enjoy reading your rhubarb recipes--thanks for those!

At July 06, 2010 12:04 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

There is something vaguely floral about sliced rhubarb, don't you think?
I have a feeling you will love my upcoming recipe for rhubarb crumble with rosewater and rose sugar.

Thanks for the pineapple and lemon suggestions. I will try that for sure!
And I agree, cooked strawberries are a sad thing. But if the strawberries are overripe it's just the thing to do with them. And strawberry jams, when made from good strawberries, are just heavenly in my opinion.

And thanks for noticing the typo. I simply can't conceal that English is my 2nd language.

At July 06, 2010 12:19 PM, Blogger Doc Elly said...

The rhubarb salad looks delicious! I'm going to have to get some rhubarb and try it. Yes, there is something vaguely floral about sliced rhubarb and I find that the same flavor persists to some extent even when it's cooked provided you don't add too much sugar and other fruit.

At July 08, 2010 9:39 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Doc Elly,
Let me know how your salad turns out :-)
I really like the texture of the cooked rhubarb. Reminds me a bit of Granny Smith apples!
I think next time I'll bake these two together, even though the apples are so not in season...


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