How to Roast Hen of the Woods Mushrooms
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I’ll be the first to confess that elaborate mushrooms scare me a bit. The otherworldliness of enokis, the meatiness of King Trumpet stalks, the sponge-like texture of Lion’s Manes.
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Rhubarb: It’s what’s for dinner. (And dessert.)

Submitted by on May 13, 2009 – 5:12 pmOne Comment

dreamstime_5434953I realized that time was passing me by way too quickly when I discovered that the farmer’s market is already overflowing with fresh, local rhubarb… before I’ve even put my winter coat in storage for the season.

Not that I’m complaining.  Having never even tasted rhubarb until my 30s (!), I’ve become more than a little bit obsessed with it these past few years, stockpiling it greedily when it shows up for its brief seasonal appearance, and chopping it up to freeze by the ziploc-ful for use on some special occasion later in the year.  Why the obsession, you ask?  Well, to be honest, I was first drawn in by the concept of rhubarb… its name and the quaint associations it has with homey, happy foods like pie, jam and berries.  There was something sort of exciting about the prospect of using a vegetable as you would a fruit; I mean, it’s not like the cookbooks are exactly overflowing with recipes for things like celery pie.  But when I discovered that this vegetable-masquerading- as-fruit was in fact related to buckwheat–a groat-masquerading-as-(gluten-free) grain– this confused/subversive stalk endeared itself to me even more.

While rhubarb does have a special rhubarby flavor of its own, since it’s also so very sour, most recipes pair it with berries and/or call for mounds of sugar to completely neutralize the flavor.  You may ask, as I did, why people would bother growing a fruitvegetable only to drown out its flavor before eating it?  Some cynics claim that rhubarb’s popularity owes solely to the fact that it’s one of the first vegetables to be ready for harvest coming out of the cold winter, and that people were traditionally so desperate for something–anything– fresh by that time of year, that they embraced rhubarb, tart flavor and all.  But I don’t buy that for one second.  There’s just something special about rhubarb that inspires irrational, giddy, devotion.  Try some and you’ll see.

Indeed, I’ve always found it to be a shame that most rhubarb recipes drown out the vegetable’s flavor with overpowering sweetness.  While I’ll admit that most of my rhubarb excursions have been into crumble or compote territory, I find that cutting back on the sugar by at least 1/3 (and up to 1/2 in some cases, especially if mixed with another fruit) still produces a product that’s plenty sweet, and allows more of the delicious, sweet-tart rhubarb flavor to come through.  (The beauty of a crumble or a compote is that you can taste the fruit as it cooks and adjust as appropriate).  In fact, I am a firm believer that few summer desserts rival a homemade rhubarb compote mixed with a modest scoop of vanilla Haagen Dazs ice cream.

But rhubarb compote isn’t exactly the kind of food I’d eat every day.  So when faced with the delightful dilemma of how best to start attacking the summer’s rhubarb bounty, I decided to go where most casual rhubarb-dabblers fail to go: to the savory side.

Take a walk on the savory side

Since savory rhubarb recipes were terra incognita for me, I decided to consult the experts.

In her Everyday Food magazine this month, Martha Stewart offers that rhubarb pairs well with ham, duck, trout, salmon and arctic char.  (How do people decide these things?)  She suggests this simple enough recipe for a rhubarb chutney, which you can pair with your choice of these savory main courses above.

More interestingly, Mark Bittman developed this unique recipe for Lentil and Rhubarb Stew with Indian Spices. Unlike Martha’s chutney recipe, this one calls for no sugar whatsoever, so the rhubarb flavor can hold its own in this lovely, savory medley.  Now we’re talking!  Note: while he claims that removing the cardamom pods at the end is optional, I’d suggest you go ahead and do it.  While these aromatic pods lend a wonderful flavor to foods they’re cooking it, it can be quite jarring to accidentally bite into one while you’re eating… they can be quite overpowering.  Alternatively, I just used 1/8 tsp of ground cardamom in lieu of the pods.

And for dessert?

Since there’s no shortage of recipes for rhubarb pies, tarts, crumbles, cobblers and compotes, I will leave you to your own devices to track down a recipe to your liking should you decide to play Iron Chef: Rhubarb one night and serve it up for dessert, too.  I will, however, point you toward my favorite gluten-free chef for two hot-off-the press recipes: one for a lovely Balsamic Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, and the other for some Strawberry-Rhubarb Muffins with Cinnamon Streusel Topping.  Yum!

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April, 2010 update: Try this much lower-sugar version of your typical rhubarb compote: combine 4 stalks fresh, chopped rhubarb + 1 cup frozen wild blueberries + 1/3 cup agave nectar in a large saucepan.  Simmer covered for first 5 minutes, then remove cover and continue to cook until fruit is nice and soft and compote-y to your liking, another ~10 minutes. Use as a topping for non-fat greek yogurt (nice) or Vanilla ice cream (naughty).

How rhubarb stacks (stalks?) up nutritionally

Rhubarb zealots are quick to advertise that rhubarb contains a lot of calcium.  Now while it’s true that 1 cup of diced rhubarb contains about 10% of the daily value for calcium, it is hardly bioavailable at all, owing to the presence of these pesky natural compounds called oxalates, which bind to the calcium in the vegetable and prevent us from being able to absorb it.  So in fact, rhubarb is NOT actually a good non-dairy source of calcium, and you shouldn’t count on it contributing to your daily goal of 1,000 mg in any meaningful way. (Bummer).  Still, that same serving has a little over 10% of the daily value for vitamin C, 2g of fiber and just 26 calories (or at least, 26 calories BEFORE you add the sugar…), so it’s still bringing something to the table nutritionally.

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