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.
With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic – infections continue to rise steadily here in Kazakhstan, averaging around 1500 new cases a day over the last week – it’s time for some more culinary escapism. We’re transporting our taste buds to Sri Lanka for our take on string hoppers, a super tasty noodle, dhal and chutney combo.
It’s usually served for breakfast on the island, but in our opinion it also works really well as a main meal. Our version features some locally sourced kespe, or noodles, as we couldn’t find red rice noodles in our local supermarket (!) and a dhal made with mung beans – check out KCC’s dhal recipe here (simply replace the red lentils and pumpkin with 200 g mung beans – soak the beans for 3 – 4 hours before cooking).
Green hot chilli peppers
Coconut and carrot sambol
Breakfast Sri Lankan style – string hoppers with coconut sambol and dhal in the background
The sambol, a quick and easy chutney, is an essential part of the string hopper experience. It saves on waste, as you can use the dried coconut left over from making the coconut milk for the dhal – click here for our coconut milk recipe.
Kespe – noodles from Kazakhstan
Carrot and Coconut Sambol
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
50 g desiccated (dried) coconut
150 g carrot
One small onion
One small tomato
One fresh green chilli
Grate the tomato and mix with the finely chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the dried coconut and the juice of the lemon and then add the grated carrot and combine all the ingredients together. Gradually add the finely chopped green chilli, tasting every now and then until you reach your chilli heat tolerance levels.
Serve alongside the mung bean dhal mentioned above and with noodles or spaghetti — use about 75 g of dried pasta per person, cooked according to the instructions on the pack.
On these chilly, wintry nights there’s nothing better than a bowl of dhal, the Indian subcontinent’s beloved lentil-based comfort food, to warm you up. We’ve added some chunks of roasted pumpkin that blend perfectly with the red lentils, whilst adding a hint of sweetness to the rich, spicy blend.
In Sri Lanka, where Knidos Cookery Club has just been on a foodie fact-finding mission, dhal (also spelt dal or daal) is a mainstay of the island’s signature curry and rice dish. It’s served any time of the day – it was particularly good served with string hoppers, little nests of steamed rice noodles, and coconut sambol (grated coconut with chillies and lime juice) – a popular breakfast on the island.
Dhal can be a meal on its own when served with rice or flatbreads, or try it alongside a selection of your favourite vegetable curries. It’s a dish that tastes even better the next day when the spices have been left over night, allowing the different flavours to mix and mingle.
Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings)
125 g red lentils
200 g roasted pumpkin
250 ml water or vegetable stock
50 ml coconut milk
200 g tomatoes
One medium onion
One teaspoon each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and chilli flakes
Two teaspoons turmeric
1 cm knob of ginger
One garlic clove
One cinnamon stick
One star anise
One bunch fresh coriander
50 ml olive oil
Roast the chunks of pumpkin in a hot oven at 200 c for 20 minutes. While the pumpkin is cooking, heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, turn the heat down and add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic and the other spices and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat.
Wash the lentils until the water runs clear and then add them to the onion mix with the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk. Cook over a low heat until it starts to bubble. When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick and star anise. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with rice and/or a flat bread such as chapati or pita.