Rhubarb and Beyond

Rhubarb, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I admit: I was always a bit skeptical about rhubarb. The stalks look like nothing more than overgrown Swiss chard stalks, and when cooked I was never overwhelmed by the flavour OR texture. It always seemed more of a kind of a filler for strawberry baked goods than an entity of its own.

But three weeks ago, I found rhubarb at the West End Farmer’s Market that was so plump, red and thick that I overcame my prejudices and got 4 stalks, along with a basket of strawberries, all from the same farmers. I looked up a few recipes but it wasn’t until the morning of the following Saturday that I actually did anything with them (summer berry & rhurabr crumble, recipe will appear here soon).

When I set to slice the ruby-coloured stalks, I expected nothing besides a 2 minute long kitchen chore. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. As the knife’s blade cut through those stems, a fragrance was released – so peculiar, and strange yet appealing – that my jaw dropped right to the kitchen floor. It smelled like crisp grass, unripe berries or fruit and ozone. The latter element is what makes it every so slightly repulsive and ever so much more interesting and not at all like its earthly Swiss chard friends.

I baked my crumble, and although I enjoyed it quite a bit, there was very little of the fresh rhubarb aroma left after the baking. So I thought – why not leave rhubarb in the raw and eat it this way?

My research for raw rhubarb recipes did not lead to much, except for a little vague recipe for a “fresh rhubarb compote” that the author had at Rendevouz.

One word of caution about rhubarb in general though, is that you must remove all leafy parts, as these are toxic (regardless of cooked or raw). The stalks are not toxic when raw, but most people do not appreciate the distinctive flavour and aroma of this peculiar vegetable and add plenty of sugar and cook it to death. I think that raw rhubarb feels like eating a modern perfume, only better because there are no synthetics involved.

Below is how I made it, two days ago. It finally was ready today and I had it for desserts and enjoyed every crispy, crunchy bite of the fragrant and tart rhubarb. And another good part is the bejeweled appearance of this salad - with ruby-like cranberries and citrine slices of apricot.

Rhubarb Salad, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

First of all, be sure to select the freshest, most plump and brightly red rhubarb stalks for this recipe. This is important for both the flavour and the texture, as this rhubarb will not be undergoing any cooking whatsoever. The following recipe will make 4 people curiously satisfied.

2 Fresh Rhubarb Stalks, thinly slices
6 Dried Apricots, sliced
2 Tbs. Dried Cranberries
2 Tbs. Honey
2 Tbs. Cointreau or Grand Marnier liquor
1 Tbs. Gin
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves

Rinse the stalks and scrape any unsightly browned bruises they may have.
Slice very thinly.
Add cranberries, sliced dried apricots, the honey and liquors. Sprinkle rosemary leaves all over the rhubarb and fruit. Seal in an airtight container and marinate in the fridge for 2 days. Be sure to shake and container twice a day for the flavours and juices to thoroughly flavour the entire salad.

Serve chilled, on its own or with a dollop of Crème Fraiche on the top.

Fruit Salad

Today was another exceptionally beautiful day in Vancouver, blessed with sunshine just like a proper Tu Bishvat day. The only thing that was missing was the fruit salad I've never made.

Fruit in the wintertime, even in Israel is not at its prime. Most of it, except for citrus fruit is refrigerated from the summer or fall. And if you live in the Northern hemisphere it is mostly imported and not at its freshest. So there is really no better way to enjoy fruit this season than in a fruit salad. Even if all you have is apples, oranges and bananas there are ways to make this simple combination incredibly delicious and festive.

What makes a Tu Bishvat fruit salad different from run-of-the-mill fruit salad is the presence of dried fruit and nuts. These add interesting texture as well as sweetness and variety of flavours.
In particular - chopped dried figs and dates and pecan nuts. If you have either of those you've got a fruit salad, no matter how plain the fruit is.

And if you want to dress up your salad even more, a few drops of orange flower water or rosewater will add grace and an enigmatic touch to any fruit salad.

Tu Bishvat Fruit Salad
(serves 2 fruit lovers or 4 not-so nuts about fruit guests)
1 Banana, peeled
2 Apples, cored
2 Oranges, with the outer skin peeled off (keep the white skin on)
10 almonds, chopped thinly
10 pecan halves, coarsely chopped
3 dried dates, sliced
4 dried figs, chopped into small cubes
1/2 tsp. Orange flower water
Lemon juice (just a few drops)

Cut the apples and bananas into small cubes and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice to avoid browning. Add chopped orange fruit and place in a bowl.
Add the dried fruit and nuts and mix well.
Add orange flower water (if desired) and toss together.
Refrigerate until serving, up to 5 hours.

Fruit salad such as this is so delicious and filling it can be a meal on its own, especially with the extra nutrients from the nuts and dried fruit. Of course, the exact amount of fruit can be adjusted to taste. And fruit can be added or omitted as desired. Fruit such as strawberry, pineapple, mango, pear or kiwi lends itself very well to this context as well as any dry fruit you like - raisins, craisins, dried apricots or peaches, prunes, etc. A sprinkle of shredded coconut can be a nice addition as well as sesame seeds or oatmeal flakes (which will turn it into a musli).
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