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 …

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Restaurant Review – Jabu

We're going to Jabu tonight, we haven't been for quite a while. Last time we went, I wrote this:

 

Can't believe I haven't mentioned Jabu before, but it seems not, or at least I can't find it. Went out with John, Guinness, the Lawsons, Julia, and Julian, for a pre-Eastercon gathering as some people are heading up today and will miss the regular pub this evening.

Jabu is a Chinese Fondue and Dumpling house, a dark pine and orange plastic cafe. Each table has an electronic hotplate. First course is a choice of fresh steamed dumplings, Northern Chinese style. Lamb and Coriander is one of our favourites, there are beef, pork, chicken and veggie based ones, heavy on the seasoning and with lots of interesting textures. £4 for 12, with dipping sauces, one soy/vinegar, one chilli/sesame. Then they bring a wok-style pot, with a divider down the middle. You choose two flavours of broth (chicken and spicy for us), they fill the pot and put it on the hotplate. Little plates of goodies (from a long, long list) arrive and you cook your choice in the broth. More dipping sauces – sesame paste, sweet chilli, garlic, wasabi/soy. Goodies last night included squid, salmon, scallops, chicken, paperthin sliced beef and lamb, assorted veggies, udon and slim noodles, and a softshell crab. You can also have a range of tofu, meat and fish balls, mushrooms, seasonal veggies, more seafood including about four types of prawns, and tripe. After you've played the cooking game for a while and run out of things to experiment with, they bring small bowls and you have the last of the noodles with the now concentrated and flavoured soup. A few pieces of cut fruit for dessert. Tea to drink throughout, they have a full menu of Chinese teas and will explain the differences. The main waitress is a phenomenon, permanently bouncy, enthusiastic about everything, will show you how to cook things if you're wary, and scurries around refilling tea, soup etc  as necessary. It was a fun evening, it's a highly social event with lots of messing about. Seven/eight is about the maximum number, though, even then people were having to stand up or stretch to reach the pot. And stunningly cheap – it worked out at £10 per head for a good 2 – 3 hours entertainment and gorgeuous food. Healthier than your average Chinese meal as well, with no deep-frying or overly sweet sauces. Yum Yum.

EDIT – I did mention it before, just didn't tag it properly. Fuller review here – nothing much seems to have changed, though! http://frandowdsofa.livejournal.com/77301.html

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Ramen Stock

I like making simple noodle broth dishes, they're quick and healthy, refreshing in summer and warming in winter. But it's always been a pain to do one quickly without using stock or flavour concentrate, or tinned consomme. Wine isn't appropriate, and water doesn't cut it. The bought concentrates from the Chinese shop are very salty, or too hot, or just come in HUGE packs. I found a recipe for Vegetable Pho by Sophie Grigson in the Waitrose food magazine for July 2005, which is fairly standard, but did include this roast vegetable stock. It's my intention to make it once to try it, and if it works, make it in quantity and freeze in portions enough for 2-3 servings. This amount serves 4, supporting 125 gms rice noodles, lots of veg and 150gms tofu for the protein.

  • 6 cm root ginger, sliced thickly
  • 1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 carrots, quartered lengthways
  • 3 stems celery, thickly sliced
  • 1 leek, trimmed and thickly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 litres water
  • 3 tbsps soy sauce
  • 0.5 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 8. Toss the veg and spices in the oil, and tip into a roasting pan. Roast for half an hour, until the veggies are patched with brown. Transfer to a big pan, scraping all the residues in. Add water, soy sauce and sugar. Boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain.

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Chilled Summer Soup

It says summer, but this might make a good lunch for a stuffy overheated office in winter. Another Waitrose card, serves 6, 224 cals per.

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 250 gms courgettes, sliced
  • 250 gms peas
  • 750 mls hot stock, chicken or veggie
  • 20 gm pack fresh mint
  • 500g tub greek yoghourt

Melt the butter and add garlic, onion and rosemary. Cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, stir in courgettes. Cook for 5 more minutes, until courgette is starting to soften but not colour.

Add peas, and stock. Boil and simmer for 10 minutes until courgette is tender. Cool, and discard rosemary.

Blend soup with mint and yoghourt. Season to taste and chill.

(They suggest Fudges Mature Cheddar and Black Pepper flatbreads to serve, but if you needed something else almost any crispbread or toasted pitta bread would be fine. You could cut the calories with a low-fat yoghourt, but I suspect the richness of the yoghourt is crucial to the taste and texture of the soup.)

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Boxing Day Soup

Waitrose do ready-trimmed veg and fruit at exorbitant prices, and one of the packs is a mix of butternut squash and sweet potato cubes. Just not having to cut and peel the squash is worth the extravagance. I'd made the gravy for the goose yesterday with goose fat, plain flour, the juice from the roasting tin, giblet stock, seasoning including allspice, some cooking port and a big dollop of redcurrant jelly.

Today I got a big pan, tipped in the gravy, topped it up with boiling water, and added 2 packs of orange veg. Simmered for a few hours, pureed it, leaving some lumps for interest's sake, tasted and added more allspice and some pepper. No extra salt, as when I served it I stirred tiny lumps of fresh creamy stilton into the bowl, so it went soft but not too melty. 

Just what we needed this evening, rich but subtle, almost bland but very moreish, gentle on the tummy and nicely filling without being fatty or sweet.

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Chicken Parsnip Apple Thing

Tonight we were due to have sesame chicken salad with spinach and ginger dressing, but it just wasn't the weather for a fresh salad, especially with the clock change and stuff. Something more in the nature of a winter warmer was called for. So I took some things that were hanging about:

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 medium parsnip
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 breast fillets of chicken
  • chicken stock
  • 2 tsps mango chutney, no lumps
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1 large Bramley cooking apple
  • 1 bunch chives

Cooked the onion and parsnip in the oil until the onion was soft. Added the spices and the chicken, cut into bite sized pieces. Cooked until the chicken was seared, added enough stock to cover, the chutney and lentils. Stewed slowly on top of the stove until the parsnip was cooked and the lentils turned to mush. Added the apple, chopped but not peeled, and stewed again until the apple had softened completely and made a thick sauce – helped by occasional vicious stirring. Added a bunch of chopped chives at the end to give a bit of a lift.

Sweet, tart, warming. Because of the apple sauce content it was hot hot hot, beware initial mouthburns. Might up the carb and spice content a bit more next time, I'm starting to feel hungry again. No idea what the calorie count was, but it can't have been too high. If I wasn't looking out for that, there'd have been some creme fraiche and crispy fried onion garnish on the top.

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Parsnip Soup and Garlicky Greens

VC 2002 – again.

This is basically a coriander flavoured parsnip soup, no cream, but blended smooth. Topped with fried parsnips tossed with garlic and wilted greens. The recipe says spinach, but also that you could use spring greens or pak choi. The calorie count is quite low (201 per portion) as no dairy and not a lot of fat. You could reduce that further by not adding the fried parsnips at the end, or still keep it under 500 and replace them with parsnip chips if you wanted. The garlicky greens might be good seaweed-style? crisp rather than wilted.              

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