25 April 2022
While walking through the market in Samarkand recently we came across tables laden with something we hadn’t seen for quite a while – rhubarb, those colourful stalks that instantly evoke childhood memories of rhubarb crumbles served with custard. In Samarkand, the favoured way to eat the stalks is raw.
Rhubarb is a classic harbinger of spring, with its short growing season over by summer. Often thought of as a fruit because of its use in puddings, complete with lashings of sugar to counteract its tartness, these stalks are in fact a vegetable.
Rhubarb has a long history in Chinese traditional medicine. It started to be imported into the west, where it was prized for its medicinal properties, along the Silk Roads in the 14th century. Transport costs, along with its popularity and relative scarcity, saw it command a higher price than cinnamon, saffron, and opium at one point.
Its high price spurred efforts to localise its cultivation and by the 18th century it was being successfully grown in Europe. The edible stalk’s greater availability, combined with the arrival of affordable sugar, led to it becoming a culinary staple in the world of desserts.
Rhubarb also has its uses in savoury dishes with its sharp flavour adding an interesting note to a lentil dhal. We served our dhal with a fruity plov and some flat bread. Any leftovers can be mixed with chickpea flour to make a fritter as part of an unusual brunch.
Ingredients (makes four servings)
- 200 g rhubarb
- One large onion
- 150 g red lentils
- 75 g spinach
- 25 ml olive oil
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- One teaspoon cumin seeds
- One teaspoon cinnamon
- One teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 50 g chickpea flour
- Heat the oil and cumin seeds in a heavy-based pan. When the seeds start to sizzle, add the chopped onion. Cook for five minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the cinnamon and red chilli flakes and the rhubarb stalk, cut into 1 cm slices – do not use the leaves as these can be bad for your health.
- Cook for three minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and then add the washed lentils and the vegetable stock. cook over a low heat for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the washed spinach and serve hot with rice or flat bread (or both!)
- To make rhubarb fritters, mix leftover 200 g dhal with 50 g chickpea flour. Form into eight walnut-sized balls and fry in oil on both sides until starting to brown, flattening with a fish slice as they cook.