Rhubarb Rhubarb

In the veggie box this week, there was rhubarb. It’s a pearly light green fading to dusky pink, crisp like celery, and smells so fresh and sharp. As a rule we don’t eat puddings, and I don’t do a lot of baking. So although my very soul cries out Crumble! and Custard! my brain is saying, no, think savoury, it came in the veggie box, after all.

I asked Twitter, and it said chutney / relish / salsa, or soup. Research into soup found some amazing Scandinavian recipes for cold soups, with herbs and cream. Mint, or dill. Those do sound fab, but the weather is still just too wintry for a chilled sharp soup.  Chutney? mmm, tempting. Something light and lemony, with a white vinegar. Or thick and dark brown, with added dried fruit.

Still not quite right, though. So I went and asked Teh Internetz Proper, and there was an underlying stream of Middle-Eastern recipes using rhubarb in pilaffs, sweet and sour sauces with meat, and tagine-type dishes. Of course, I thought, anywhere you would put preserved lemon, or lots of pomegranate, you could fiddle around with it and use rhubarb. Different texture, and you have to take the bulk of it into account.

In the oven at the moment, pootling along at Gas Mark 4, is a chicken and rhubarb dish. It started out as:

3 chicken thighs, skin browned in a plentiful amount of olive oil.

Plus:

  • 1 fat leek, chopped
  • 3 giant cloves of garlic, roughly crushed
  • Cinnamon stick, cumin seed, red chilli flakes, dried oregano, dried mint, black pepper
  • 2 sticks of rhubarb, peeled to remove any strings, and cut in  pieces, about 2 cms.

I turned the chicken over so the skin side was up, browned the other side in the now spicy oil, and added enough chicken stock to cover the veg and leave the chicken skin dry to roast it. (Which also gave it some salt.)

After about half an hour or so, I shall investigate and see how sharp it is. At that point I may add something sweet if it needs it – apricot puree, dates, straight sugar, pomegranate molasses. The leek and garlic should have mellowed it out a bit.

Or I may leave it tart, and make a sweeter couscous to go with it and balance it off.

I’ll finish it with some fresh mint, or maybe put that in a cucumber and sorrel salad.

If it works, there is more in next week’s box. I’m running through my preserved lemon favourites – duck and black olives, pork or lamb stuffed with apricots and pistachios …

Bloody Volcano

The skies have been wonderfully clear, brilliant blue air – and it’s getting colder again. Even lit a fire again tonight. So although my kitchen is full of fresh veg, I want something dark and warming. Result?

Braising steak cut up bitesize and cooked long and slow with wedges of carrot, massive slices of ginger, crushed pineapple, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Served with long strips of crunchy veggies stir fried with black beans and wild garlic.

There are Daleks visiting Sheffield railway station tomorrow, we shall go and investigate. A friend has good news, we may celebrate with cake from Fancie in the Winter Gardens.

The Bitter Herbs of Spring

We’ve been getting the Seasons Veg Box from Riverford all winter. It’s been full of good things – parsnips, carrots, swede, cabbage, leeks. I’ve done loads of fun meals and it’s certainly kept us warm and comfy. But with the changing weather, I’ve really started to appreciate the old accounts you read, of people combing the countryside for dandelions and other new leaves, just to taste something fresh and tart.

In this morning’s box there was a bag full of dark green wild garlic leaves. They’re textured a bit like basil, and you get one long thin leaf on a stalk. The smell wasn’t too strong, but eating them raw gives you a wonderful garlic burn. Literally, my mouth is still stinging a bit. Mind you, I have been pigging out.

Lunch was a roast beef and garlic sandwich, on some seeded bread with a few dabs of mayo. Dinner was pasta with wild garlic pesto.

  • 2 oz about of pine nuts
  • an ounce or so of Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced or grated
  • 2 anchovies (the proper dark grey fillets in oil)
  • 100 ml thick green 0live oil
  • 2 handfuls wild garlic leaves (I suppose you could mix with basil if you want it milder)

I toasted the pine nuts and put half of them in a blender with half the cheese and the anchovies. Whizz whizz with a dribble of the oil to get it going, feed in the leaves. Add more oil to get the texture you want – thick paste or flecked sauce.

Cooked some pasta (just plain spaghetti worked well), and toss with the pesto, adding the rest of the pine nuts and cheese. Stunningly pepper hot, salty and the brightest bottle green in the world.

And there’s some pesto left, too. I foresee a poached egg on toast with green drizzle for breakfast.

Lemon and Garlic Lamb Shanks

We like lamb shanks. I normally do them casseroled with a classic onion and red wine sauce, but I saw this recipe in the Waitrose magazine. It was in an article about steaming things, and to be honest I couldn't be farted running in and out of the kitchen checking on the steamer water for a couple of hours. So I did it slightly differently:

  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsps coriander seed
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • Big pinch saffron threads
  • 2 preserved lemons, cut into strips
  • 1 tbsp garlic puree from a tube
  • 2 lamb shanks (we had some small New Zealand ones)

Heat the butter and olive oil in an ovenproof casserole. When it's frothing, stir in the spices, lemons and garlic. Mix well and allow to cook down a bit until the fat is impregnated with the flavours. Don't let it burn, though. Put the meat in, turning a couple of times and making sure it's well coated with the spices. Put in a low oven, Gas Mark 3 or thereabouts, for a couple of hours, longer if you like, turning occasionally.

We ate them with a steamed cauliflower, which was lovely coated with the lemony garlicky buttery sauce. The original recipe suggested serving it with a herby couscous, and that would be yummy too. It's very rich, and a gorgeous winter evening dinner.

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Chandrika’s Garlic Mango Pickle

Following on from the mango wraps, the same article in olive February 2004 included a raw mango pickle which looked, um, lively.

  • 1 medium green unripe mango, washed
  • 1 small head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
  • 3 tbsps salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 0.5 tsp hing / asafoetida
  • 3 tbsps black mustard seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 tbsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil

Cut the mango into small chunks, leaving the peel on, and discard the stone.

Mix everything together and put in a jar in a cool place for about a week. Will keep in the fridge for about another month.

I wouldn't put this in a jar with a metal lid. I suspect it would develop quite a bit of sauce as it matured, and would be sour and crunchy. Totally unlike the cooked sweet mango chutney you can buy, more like the lime pickle end of things. I've got everything in the house except the mango, am tempted to just pop out for a moment …

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