At this point in the season, the rhubarb plants have peaked, attempted to bloom their heads off (and been thwarted by my Felcos), and are beginning to settle back into merely being a large green presence in the yard without actually attempting to overrun or squash anything. We’ve had rhubarb crisp, clafoutis, pie, compote, and muffins, and stowed away a large freezer bag of chopped stalks for later.
Despite all that, I’m nowhere near rhubarb burnout, and there are several recipes left that I want to try – for instance, I’ve still never roasted rhubarb. Or poached it in red wine. I have, however, braised it with green herbs, onion, tomato and saffron. Sound weird? It’s actually really, really good.
I found this recipe quite by accident, several years ago, in a library book called Silk Road Cooking (come to think of it, I should check it out again). Out of curiosity I tried it out, and liked it so much I immediately wrote it into my personal recipe notebook. My parents have made it several times, too. It’s piquant and savory and a great way to use up rhubarb. This is a perfect time of year to make it, too, when all the green herbs are hitting their stride.
The book attributes this dish to Kurdish nomads, living in the mountains where rhubarb grows wild. The smell as it cooks is very much like the Afghan soup called ash, redolent with dill and turmeric. There’s just a hint of heat, depending on what kind of chile you add.
The recipe is very specific about what herbs to use, but I would feel free to make substitutions or change quantities (make sure you use at least some dill, though, if possible). For this last batch, I happened to have tons of fresh mint, dill, parsley and cilantro, but I didn’t want to use up all my chives so I left them out. Dried herbs could work fine as well, since they are incorporated early and have plenty of time to stew.
The other ingredient that I’ve considered changing is the split peas. They give the braise a more colorful appearance – rather like corn – and a subtle nutty flavor, but I have trouble getting them to cook soft enough in the given cooking time, and find them a little distracting in texture. Next time I might substitute chickpeas, or leave them out altogether, depending on how I’m serving the braise.
Despite having both rhubarb and lime juice, this really isn’t too tart – the sweet onion and the herbs really cut the sour. But feel free to add extra sugar at the end if you think it needs it. Personally I like the tartness.
Kurdish Braised Rhubarb
adapted from Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey
by Najmieh Batmanglij
- 4 Tbsp oil
- 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 hot chile or 1/2 tsp chile paste (she specifies a red chile, but I sliced up a green serrano)
- 3 cups chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup chopped mint
- 1/2 cup chopped chives
- 1/2 cup choppped dill
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 2/3 cup yellow split peas (or canned chickpeas)
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 3 1/2 cups stock or water
- 1 fresh tomato, sliced
- pinch of saffron soaked in 2 Tbsp hot water
- juice of half a lime
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 lb rhubarb, cut into 1 inch chunks
Saute the onion in the oil until soft, then add the garlic, chile and herbs. Add the split peas, salt, pepper and turmeric, saute for a few minutes. Add stock or water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 min or until the split peas have softened. Check to make sure it’s not boiling dry; if so, add a little more water.
Add the tomato, the saffron and its soaking liquid, the lime juice and sugar. Bring back to a boil, then arrange the rhubarb on top, cover and simmer another 10-15 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft. Taste and adjust salt or sugar as necessary.
Serve over couscous or rice, or with plenty of bread – something to soak up all the tart herby sauce. Excellent with lamb or chicken. Leftovers could easily be turned into a soup.