Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Produce of the Week: Rhubarb

First off, I want to start out by thanking all of you who have read my entries and posted comments; it really means a lot to me, and I welcome more input - including suggestions about recipes (as I don't profess to have mastered the art of baking quite yet).

The past nine months at home have been revitalizing and enlightening. Seattle and the Puget Sound region has wormed its way back into my heart and strengthened its hold on my affections with its charm, vitality, and liberal approach to life. And while the San Francisco Bay Area still wins for highest concentration of close friends and best weather, Seattle has a familiar comfort, lush greenery, and a bountiful foodie/food blogger community! Holy monkeys, I think every other blog I come across online is from within 50 miles of me!

Spending time in my hometown after my extended absence during college has also allowed me to acquaint myself with some of the star attractions of our northern clime. It was only last spring that I first tried rhubarb (I suppose almost anything can grow in northern California), but this year I have really become aware of how it abounds in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, Washington is one of, if not THE, biggest commercial producers of rhubarb in the country! Seattle Times Magazine showcased a farmer in Sumner (a bit south-east of Seattle) who churns out rhubarb in quantity. The article also highlighted how rhubarb is regaining steam; considered an "old people's crop" enjoyed only by generations past, rhubarb has reclaimed some of its former popularity as a tangy addition to desserts and even some savory dishes.

Rhubarb is more than just a celery-esque vegetable-that-is-used-as-a-fruit. First cultivated for medicinal uses in Asia, earliest records date domestic rhubarb to at least 2700 BCE! By the 18th century, Europeans had adopted the sturdy stalks for culinary use, and of course the United States did not trail far behind. While the green leaves are quite poisonous, the edible petioles (for you botanists) or stalks provide potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. The rhizome, or root, served in traditional Chinese medicine - particularly as a purgative substance. All of this background information (and more) can be found at this informative website!

Rhubarb encompasses a wide variety of types depending upon the region. The luscious red or green stalky plant can serve as a hair dye, an insecticide, and even a pot cleaner. But we are talking food here, and I have yet to try any of those other uses (nor do I think rhubarb would do much to my dark hair color). So let's get to it - rhubarb is, after all, traditionally found in the form of tarts and pies.

This month for the Sweet or Savory (SOS) Kitchen Challenge, Kim and Ricki have chosen to tackle the some-times intimidating rhubarb. This is very timely, as rhubarb's growing season ranges from late April to September in the cooler northern climates it loves. Now I have to admit I toyed with making vegan versions of rhubarb clafoutis (still plan on attempting this one) and rhubarb panna cotta. But then I read that today (or by the time I post this, yesterday) was National Strawberry Shortcake Day! Well, my shortcake is not quite the rich, buttery biscuit normally sought in the classic dish, but they go nicely with a rhubarb compote that steals the spotlight, anyhow!

Spelt Biscuits with Lemony Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

1 cup lite coconut milk
1/2 cup agave or maple syrup (or you can try subbing in liquid or powdered stevia)
3 tbs oil
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup besan
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup almond meal (optional; sub more spelt if nut-free)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Whisk together coconut milk, agave, oil, and vanilla until thickening and smooth.
2. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients until well-incorporated.
3. Spoon batter into madeleine or cupcake pan. Bake at 325F for 15-20 minutes until starting to brown and tops are set. You can insert a knife as you would test a cake or loaf.
4. Let cool thoroughly. Serve topped with compote that follows.

1 cup rhubarb, chopped into 1" pieces
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (or other sweetener)
1 cup strawberries (I used frozen and thawed first)
2 sprigs lemon balm

1. Mix rhubarb with 1/4 cup sugar and let sit for an hour. Heat with rest of sugar over med-low until rhubarb is just soft. Don't overdo it!
2. Remove from heat. Add strawberries and lemon balm. Allow to cool and then refrigerate in an air-tight container (I like glass jars) until dessert/afternoon tea/midnight snack/early morning nibble time.

This could be one of the greatest hits ever! John Cleese is awesome (even without considering his lemur affinity)

I also really want to try a savory recipe with rhubarb...stay tuned for this trial:

Rhubarb Pilaf (compliments of

More Rhubarb marvelousness:
Tarts and Ratios with Mango Power Girl
101 Cookbooks Crumbles
Simple Compote at Smitten Kitchen
Eatavegan is Jammin'
NY Times is on a roll with a refreshing pool-side beverage, some CouCous, and a fancy (in desperate need of veganizing) recipe for rhubarb ravioli!

I'm terribly interested in more recipes, particularly out-of-the-box ones, that show off the character of rhubarb, so don't hesitate to chime in!

1 comment:

Ricki said...

These look soooo amazing! Thanks so much for entering the challenge, and with such a spectacular recipe. Can't wait to try it. :)