Rhubarb - fruit or vegetable? Although it’s often used in sweet dishes it’s actually a vegetable and a very versatile one too. Danny aka Food Urchin had a glut of rhubarb growing in his allotment. As there’s only so much crumble you can eat, decided to try using it for an inventive curry.
Gluts in general are a good thing, especially down on the allotment. To be honest, it doesn’t happen that often but when my cup runneth over and there is an abundance of a particular vegetable or fruit, there is certainly something giddy about diving-bombing into the patch and throwing produce up into the air with gay abandon.
One year, we had tons and tons of courgettes. The courgettes went mad. Loads we had. And with every trip down to the plot, the more we would bring back home. To make pasta sauces, to blitz for soups, to chop up for ratatouille, to grill and throw into salads, to stuff with mince, to grate, mix in and bake for chocolate cakes. Oh, it was brilliant.
The flipside of course, is that eventually you get fed up, absolutely fed up of eating courgettes. Sick and tired of peeling, chopping, thinking, reading and scratching your head about what you are going to do with them. And then you begin to curse them with every visitation. “Out, damn courgette, out I say.” You then try to give them away. Which works at first but people can get sick and tired of that too. You begin to practically chase people around, old ladies in particular, all over the allotment with these bulbous, green truncheons, begging, pleading. Until the police get called and you get nicked for harassment and threatening behaviour with a squash. So sometimes, gluts are not necessarily a good thing.
It is still a bit early in the year to be worrying about such things but I have to admit, I am starting to fret about the rhubarb, as right now it is beginning to hit its peak. A month ago, the rhubarb was still fairly docile, given the coldness of the start to spring and seemed quite quiet and happy; crowns all cozied up under their mounds of manure. But having had the warm snap and a flash of rain, the stuff is now going bonkers.
It always amazes me actually, the speed at which some things can grow. With each sunrise, I can’t help but picture in my mind, masses of pink stalks unfurling from the soil and shooting skywards like rockets, spreading out their poisonous leaves to shadow the ground. Like some sinister, living, thing. Like some kind of Triffid, that will eventually uproot itself and make its way to my house and come knocking at my door.
You could say that I have an overactive imagination and that I am possibly worrying a little too much about how to deal with the forthcoming glut but this is the sort of stuff that is keeping me awake at night.
As such, I am currently on the lookout for lots of different ways to use rhubarb. After all, there is only so much crumble you can eat. After doing some research, the usual suspects have come up in the form of using the excess rhubarb to make various puddings, ketchups, chutneys, jams and jellies. Not to forget steeping large quantities in vats of gin and vodka. But then I stumbled across a rather inventive suggestion by vegetarian food writer and cook, Celia Brooks. In her book, New Urban Farmer, Celia recommends using a savoury approach. Rather than concentrate on the sweet and the pickled (including pickled liver), why not stick some rhubarb in a curry?
This is a good question, so I tried her alternative sounding recipe out the other night and it was a humdinger. The resulting curry resembled a dhal more than anything else, as the rhubarb and pulses do melt down a lot during the cooking process. But the flavour was outstanding with each forkful delivering a sharp, sour, spicy hit; all underpinned by warm, earthy lentils. It smacked of comfort food yet remained fresh and vibrant and given that the recipe caters for 4 to 6 people and I pretty much ate the lot by myself, says to me, that this is a fine curry.
And because it is such a good dish, I got in touch with Celia and asked if I could have permission to share the recipe on Great British Chefs. Thankfully, she agreed, saying that she felt quite flattered by my asking. She also said that I was to stop worrying so much about gluts in the future. Apparently Celia used to have the same nightmares too.
Rhubarb and lentil curry
(Serves 4-6 )
2 tsbp virgin rapeseed oil or sunflower oil
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
Half tsp of coarse crystal sea salt
2 tsp paprika
Quarter tsp turmeric
350g rhubarb, cut into 1cm chunks
150 puy lentils
700ml vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp dark brown sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Boiled basmati rice, thick natural yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves or parsley leaves to serve
Heat a large pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Add the leeks, onion, and celery, and cook, stir frequently, until soft.
Meanwhile, place the garlic, cumin, coriander seed and half a tsp of coarse salt in a mortar and pound the garlic to a paste. Add this mixture to the pan with the softened leeks, along with the paprika and turmeric, and stir for about a minute, until fragrant. Next add the rhubarb, lentils and stock, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for half an hour. Add 1 tbsp brown sugar and taste the liquid in the pan. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and more sugar if necessary. Leave the pan uncovered and simmer for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve on a bed of cooked basmati rice, with a dollop of yoghurt and fresh herbs scattered over each bowl.
Inspired? For more delicious rhubarb recipes visit Great British Chefs collection.