Rhubarb: Fast & Fresh

Rhubarb. I really didn’t know if I should pick it. Nothing else in my April garden looked as ready.   

Yet there she was, boasting her verdancy amid a swirling carpet of troublesome buttercup and clumps of new grass. Rhubarb shouted out with big fat leaves the size of platters.  

She had erupted from the cold wet March soil as blood red crowns, quickly morphing into crinkly, neon-green bundles. I stopped trolling rhubarb for a couple of weeks and was shocked to find her wings unfurled.  Her massive (and toxic) wavy green leaves were hiding edible stalks beneath. 

She identifies as a fruit but is a vegetable, our lady rhubarb. 

I took a deep breath and harvested five stalks today, yanking each one from the base, a thin white filament sliced from the root ball clinging to the bottom of every stalk. 

In the kitchen, I washed and trimmed my April bounty, covering the base of a wide pot with a half-inch dice. Splash went sweet apple juice over the red chunks, just to cover.  I took a large spoon and scooped out an ample portion of fine, local honey from our friend and arborist Gordon MacKay. 

Covered, the rhubarb gently simmered for no more than 10 minutes dissolving into a tangy compote ready for breakfast yogurt, dessert-time ice cream or simply solo and divine.  

Roasted Carrots and Cabbage

Roasted Carrots and Cabbage with Rosemary

Easy and quick, this roasted pan of veggies is as fun to design as it is to eat. When peeling or slicing onions and cabbage do not pare off the core or stem end which holds the piece together when turning over halfway through the bake to expose all that caramelized deliciousness.    

2-4 tbsp olive oil

5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 4-5 inch sticks

6 cabbage wedges, core attached

1 small onion, peeled, quartered with core attached

10-12 cherry or grape tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled or not

Rosemary, dried or fresh, de-stemmed

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili pepper flakes 

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a rimmed baking sheet. 

Arrange carrots in a line down the middle and place 3 cabbage wedges above and below.  Scatter over with onion, tomatoes, garlic cloves and rosemary.  Sprinkle liberally with salt, freshly ground pepper and chilli pepper flakes, if desired.  Drizzle remaining olive oil on top. 

Bake on the top rack for 15 min, flip veggies over and return to oven until golden brown and fragrant, 15-20 more minutes.

 

dipping into soup

There is something so very gratifying about making soup again —  despite the sweltering August heat. The kitchen garden is busting with basil, tomatoes and zucchini. Meanwhile, the fridge is crowded with leftover this and that, daily harvests tucked into bags and fresh produce splurges found on sale.  

I open the crisper and am determined to find a destination for a clutch of golden beet greens that are still fresh and vibrant a whole week after their yellow orbs were removed. Wouldn’t these greens taste fine in a vegan bean soup? I pounce on two cups of leftover bean dip:  the genesis.  Laced with lemon, rosemary and smoked paprika, this luscious dip on the blog last week will be this week’s soup base.  

I yank out a medium pot, heat it on medium-high, waiting a minute or two before drizzling the base with two tablespoons of olive oil. Next up, a chopped yellow onion and two stalks of celery sprinkled over by a confetti of golden beet leaf stalks. 

Down in our basement, where the rat once lived, I survey the contents of my standup freezer door where each of the four shelves is lined with green-lidded yogurt containers.  Most are full of chicken or bean stock.  Others contain soup. Some are pasta sauces. All are meticulously labelled. I grab two white bean stock containers and climb up the rickety wood stairs.

In a flash, a soup base is born. It’s strange to spoon my cold bean dip into the caramelized onions, celery and beet stalks but magic happens when I pour in the broth and a cloudy, creamy liquid swirls beneath.

More veg! I cut a yellow bell pepper into mouthfuls and a dozen grape tomatoes into quarters. A cob of corn is sliced into a pile of niblets that are shoved with my chef’s knife into the mix. I find a small patty pan squash and a zebra-striped zucchini from today’s harvest and chop them up. 

I fiddle with seasoning, starting small with salt — just a  teaspoon — then lashings of ground black pepper, a big pinch of chilli flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika.  On with the cover and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so. 

Another taste of this soup-in-the-making tells me lemon from the dip is too loud.  I blunt it with tomato paste.  I don’t open a can, I find a flattened sheet of tomato paste frozen into a thin, easy-to-break sheet from the flavour drawer in my kitchen freezer. Baggies full of frozen bay laurel and kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chopped herbs, galangal, whole Thai red chili peppers and lime juice cubes are just a reach away from stovetop soups, curries and sauces.

I toss in a square inch of paste along with another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a sprig of basil, pinched from the garden just moments ago,

Another taste. This soup is still asking for more…

I give it a wallop, smashing two cloves of hard-neck garlic just harvested by a Cowichan Valley young farmers’ collective. The smash is so sticky, papery thin garlic skins become glued to my fingers. Sticky garlic can only mean one thing: Rich, garlicky bite. I sprinkle the sticky crumble over the bubbling soup’s surface and chuckle and natter on to myself, laughing like a witch.

Last step and we find ourselves at the beginning again. Those beet greens. I slice then slide them off my cutting board, the green mound melting instantly into a sea of beans. I turn off the heat.  It’s done. Soup again. 

Garden Vegetable Bean Dip Soup

Totally unorthodox, this soup’s success rests on humus or bean dip. Clean out the contents of your fridge with this nutritious brew, substituting any of my additions with your own fridge or garden finds. 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cooking onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 bunch golden beet stalks, minced 

2 cups bean dip

6 cups white bean vegetable stock

1 yellow bell pepper, cubed

1 small zucchini, 1/2-inch dice

1 patty pan squash, sliced

4 small boiled potatoes, cubed

6 grape tomatoes, quartered

Niblets from one cob of corn

1-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Big pinch chili flakes 

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

Beet greens, sliced 

Heat a medium pot on medium-high. Add oil, onion, celery and beet stalks and saute until tender. Add bean dip and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Add bell pepper, zucchini, patty pan squash, potatoes, tomatoes and corn. Season with salt, black pepper, tomato paste, paprika, chilli flakes and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and beet greens and cook a final minute or two.

White Bean & Rosemary Dip

Let’s take the pulse on pulses. I’m talking dried legumes that grow inside pods, be it beans, peas or lentils. 

So much value in every bite.  Full of protein. Packed with fibre. What kitchen can survive without these yummy little packages?

Open my pantry and you’ll find shelf upon shelf of peas – like chickpeas, green peas and black-eyed peas. 

Then there are beans. Kidney-shaped in black, red and white. Black ones, often called turtle and fermented into a salty Chinese condiment. Italian variations like cannellini (white kidney) beans or ceci (chickpeas) beans, borlotti, butterbeans, lupini beans and fava. 

We haven’t even mentioned lentils! Small red ones (also called Egyptian) are one of the quickest you can cook, while green and brown lentils take a few more minutes. But those French babies dubbed Le Puy are my favourite. 

Indian cuisine revels in pulses and you’ll find the largest selection with the most confusing appellations in ethnic food aisles and Indian grocery stores.

Many turn to canned beans instead of dried, for convenience sake. I like to soak and cook pulses in bulk. Once they’re tender, drained and cooled, I freeze and label in two cup containers.  

No matter which pulse moves you the most, your health (and the earth) will thank you if you eat them regularly. 

White Bean and Rosemary Dip

This easy dip needs a food processor to become sublime.  Yes, you can hand-mash canned beans into a delicious affair but I like to use cooked dried beans, which provide more flavour and texture but call out for strong maceration. Do NOT use a blender. Dried beans you hydrate and cook yourself are not only cheaper than canned, but contain zero sodium compared to the oodles found in canned.

1 garlic clove

2 cups cooked white beans such as kidney, navy or cannelinni

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (aprox 5-inch sprig)

1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-1 tsp kosher salt

1-2 tbsp water * optional

Freshly ground black pepper

With the food processor blade running, drop garlic clove down the tube to mince. Add beans, lemon juice, rosemary and paprika and mix until well combined.  Pour oil through feeding tube while the blade is running.  Add water, if needed, to make the puree the right consistency.  Season with salt and black pepper. Serve in a bowl, garnished with a whole sprig of rosemary, a light drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of Vancouver Island flaky salt.

Corn Salsa Salad

Corn Salsa Salad

This colourful summer salad is full of spunk thanks to key salsa notes: lime juice, garlic, chilli flakes and a big handful of cilantro. For the best optics, chop all your veggies the same size. This salsa/salad holds well in the fridge for 2-3 days if you have any leftovers.

2 cobs fresh corn

1/2 large red onion, chopped

1 medium cucumber, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

10 grape tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped honeydew or cantaloupe

1 Tbsp olive oil

Juice of one lime

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2-1 tsp chili flakes 

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

Bring a medium pot of unsalted water to boil and cook corn 8 minutes. (Salt toughens the kernels). Remove corn and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the kernels and place in a large bowl, mixing with cucumbers, red bell pepper, tomatoes and melon. Toss with oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, chilli flakes and cilantro.

rhubarb Rhubarb

I first set eyes on rhubarb in my Toronto childhood backyard. I didn’t know it was edible but did notice its big, fat, leafy presence.   

My mom, an avid gardener, ignored it. Her passions skewed to flowers. We often shared a loving look at her peonies or roses together, but chives were as far as she’d go in the green department.  

Writing about and researching fruits and veggies most of my life, I’ve always been a little dubious of the childhood rhubarb recollections relayed to me by friends. They always shake their greying heads with revelatory passion, recounting how they had dipped freshly grown rhubarb into a jar of sugar.  All this, standing alone in the middle of a vegetable patch at the age of five or six.  Uh, huh? I tried this sugar dip trick recently and couldn’t spit the rhubarb out fast enough. 

Let’s be real folks, rhubarb is one sour mofo. Don’t get me wrong. I can embrace sour but with rhubarb, it’s always begs for more sugar than the rest of the gang.

On the plus side, I adore growing this so-called fruit that’s actually a vegetable. A perennial, rhubarb really grows itself.  It’s the first to poke through the soil in early spring, starting with little red bumps and furled, neon green leaves that stretch out dramatically into a monster of a bush in a few weeks. Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is usually pinker (and deceptively sweeter-looking)  than my garden’s red-green, tannic stalks. 

Alas, the colour of a rhubarb stalk has nothing to do with ripeness.   

This veggie calls out in its pretend, fruit voice for our sweetest of attentions.  It loves to be buffeted in a blanket of sugar, butter and carbs. That’s all it wants.  Maybe you’ll want it too if you give in to the sweetness rhubarb demands.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Crisps are a simple, easy dessert for fruit-filled success that are just as good — if not better — for breakfast the following day. Einkorn and oats are a match made in whole grain heaven.  There’s a reason strawberries and rhubarb pair so well. They are seasonal sisters in the garden and sugary strawberries help abate all that rhubarb pucker.

2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

2 1/2 cups rhubarb, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tbsp corn starch 

2 tbsp blanched almond slivers, toasted

3/4 cup whole einkorn 

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp salt 

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

1 cup oatmeal

In a round 8-cup ceramic or glass dish, toss strawberries and rhubarb chunks with white sugar and corn starch.

In a food processor bowl, blitz toasted almonds, einkorn, brown sugar, cardamom and salt with a few pulses in the food processor.  Add butter cubes and pulse until they are pea-sized morsels. Combine with oatmeal and layer over the fruit. 

Bake in 375 F oven for 40-45 min or until top is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath.

 

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