Afghan experimentation

Afghan dinner

It was a chain reaction. I picked up a copy of Tamasin Day-Lewis’ book Supper for a Song at the library, and while finding it attractive but irritating (does she really think that scallops and pheasant are budget ingredients?) also noticed that she included a lot of Afghan-inspired recipes from the book Noshe Djan by Helen Saberi. I adore Central Asian food, especially Afghan, but have very few recipes to work from, so I was happy to get the recommendation. I returned Day-Lewis to the library and went looking for Saberi instead.

Afghan Food & Cookery

I managed to find the book shortly afterwards while browsing at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks in Vancouver (always a good place to look for obscure cookbooks), republished under the title Afghan Food & Cookery. It’s definitely no-frills, but there are some really intriguing dishes in here, including several versions of ash and a hell of a lot of kebabs. I finally tried some recipes out of it last week, and was pleased with the amount of detail in the cooking instructions. The spinach with rhubarb was very successful, the mastawa (sticky rice with lamb and yogurt) more  of a mixed result. I want to make both of them again, but possibly with some adjustments.

spinach with rhubarb and leeks

The spinach dish is a wonderful thing to make at this season, when greens and rhubarb are both at their best. I sliced some leeks, sauteed them in olive oil, then added spinach to the pan and cooked it down. A stalk of rhubarb, cut into pieces, was fried in a little oil and tossed in along with some dried dill. The whole thing cooks down to a rather unappetizing-looking mess, but it’s delicious, the rhubarb adding a quiet tart note that balances the sweetness of the leeks. It reminded me of the Kurdish Rhubarb Braise that we often make in early summer, but it’s much simpler.


Mastawa was much more complicated and time-consuming. I simmered whole lamb shoulder chops with water and onions until the meat fell off the bones, then shredded it by hand. I added washed short-grain rice to the lamb and broth and let it cook, then added soaked orange peel, a can of chickpeas, two whole cups of yogurt and dried dill. It smelled wonderful, but the result was strangely like orange rice pudding – the lamb and onions nearly vanished, and the orange flavor was overwhelming against the blandness of the rice and yogurt. It was very soothing, like congee, and we found a good splash of Sriracha helped a lot to perk it up. I would make this again if I wanted something soft and comforting to eat from a deep bowl in an armchair during the winter, otherwise I would maybe add less rice and a lot more herbs.

soaking orange peel

adding rice

adding orange peel

Afghan dinner

I do think it was a successful venture into Afghan cookery. Looking forward to grilling some kebabs and naan!

balsamic rhubarb


So when we were at the Stumbling Goat the other night, one of the entrees I was eyeballing consisted of duck breast served with Bluebird Farms farro and rhubarb. I thought that sounded swell, but also rather like something I could make at home. So, the following night, I made it at home. More or less.


We didn’t have any duck, but I did have a package of chicken thighs left over from a Gretchen’s class last week. I roasted them with a sprinkling of herbed salt. I did, in fact, have Bluebird Farms farro (fantastic stuff, so nutty and chewy), which I simmered in salted water, then drained and tossed with chopped sage and orange zest. For the rhubarb, I improvised, cutting it into medium pieces, tossing them with olive oil and a bit of salt, and roasting them in the 400° oven with the chicken for about twenty minutes. The rhubarb softened but began to caramelize a bit near the end – I was very careful not to touch the pieces for fear they’d fall apart. When I took the pan out of the oven I sprinkled a bit of brown sugar on top, then balsamic vinegar over it all. I used a large spoon to carefully lift the pieces out of the pan onto our plates, along with the mixed juices.

The dinner worked really nicely – the chicken had some of the crispest skin I’ve ever achieved (not sure why), the farro was delicious, and the rhubarb was soft and both tart and sweet, going great with the chicken and the farro. Next time for the rhubarb I think we’ll use white sugar instead of brown (my husband said he felt like he was eating a rhubarb crisp with dinner) and lots more vinegar, but we’ll definitely do this again.

braised rhubarb with herbs and saffron


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.

fresh rhubarb

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.

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rhubarb muffins

rhubarb muffins

I’m cheating a little by posting this recipe today: I actually baked these muffins months ago. However, we just took the leftovers out of the freezer and ate them two days ago, so what was old is new again, right?

This isn’t a particularly avant-garde recipe. The original (written down many years ago) was a Williams Sonoma recipe for white-flour muffins with rhubarb and crystallized ginger, beloved by myself and my mother for its versatility – it can use yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk, depending what you have on hand, and it’s very good with tart apples or cranberries instead of rhubarb. I also like that the batter doesn’t need delicate treatment – often with muffin batter you need to fold the ingredients together until just combined, and no more – but this stuff can be stirred as much as you like and it still bakes up fluffy and tender.

For some reason this time I wasn’t in the mood for ginger (besides, we didn’t have any candied ginger in the house) and I wanted a bit more flavor in the muffin itself, so I added a bit of whole wheat flour and limited the additions to just rhubarb. It just occurred to me, though, this would have been great with a bit of orange zest added in with the fruit. Hmmm…maybe next time. Continue reading

saving room for rhubarb crisp

fresh rhubarb

The rhubarb in the garden is coming along beautifully, and we’ve been hankering for a pie or crisp. I finally had time to make our first crisp of the season – just enough for the two of us.

halibut and asparagus with lemon

I kept dinner really simple: some steamed asparagus with olive oil and salt, and a halibut fillet sauteed in a little butter, with a glass of verdejo. I was mostly looking to eat something light so as to save room for dessert, but this actually turned out fantastic – the halibut was incredibly tender and flavorful, like crab claw meat, and the verdejo matched perfectly. It was so good.

But then we got to eat rhubarb crisp! Continue reading

in the garden: rhubarb

the first rhubarb stalk

The rhubarb in the back yard is just beginning to sprout. It’s not any sort of fancy variety – in fact, it came with the house. But it’s vigorous and tasty, and we’re really looking forward to our first rhubarb pie.

The early stalks have a certain alien quality to them, like a gunnera or a tree fern. Who first thought that it might be edible?