I usually associate rhubarb with sweet things, either in a pie, pudding, jam, compote and so on; loaded with lots sugar to balance its sour flavour. Going through a magazine the other day I found a savoury recipe which immediately got me dying to try it, so you can imagine rhubarb was the first thing I bought the next day. After patiently waiting for it too cook, and then photographing the final dish, I was blown away by how delicious it was, really really good! Savoury rhubarb, no added sugar, sour casserole, well.. I’m a new fan!The rich sweetness of the tender lamb and the spices added to this dish balance rhubarb’s natural and delicious sour notes beautifully. If I was a vegetarian or vegan for that matter I’d certainly give it a go with either chickpeas or red kidney beans. Actually I will start experimenting soon. So if like me, you like rhubarb and are trying to avoid tonnes of added sugar, please give this recipe a go.
A few facts about Rhubarb
Rhubarb was originally imported from the far East, where its roots have been used as a medicinal plant, but the practice of eating the stems only took off once sugar was cheaper and readily available in the 18th century. It’s appealingly sharp taste comes from oxalic acid and one if its uses has been to return shine to burned pots and pans! West Yorkshire once produced almost all of the world’s ‘forced’ (indoor) rhubarb, and the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ geographically connecting Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford became a jewel in British food heritage.
When cooked, rhubarb has a unique texture going from a tough stalk into silky strands in seconds, making it ideal for turning into jam or compote. Just be careful you don’t eat rhubarb leaves as they are poisonous.
Rhubarb and Lamb Casserole – Serves 4/5
Preparation: 30 minutes. Cooking: 2 hours 35 minutes. Recipe Adapted from Country Living Magazine March 2012, written by Alison Walker
- 2 tablespoons oil of your choice (I use coconut)
- 800 g / 1 3/4 lb lamb shoulder, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 2 small onions, sliced
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tablespoon flour of your choice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 900ml – 1 litre / 2 pt hot stock
- 300 g / 10 oz rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 5 cm lengths
- 1 tablespoon each of freshly chopped coriander and mint
- Saffron rice to serve, optional
Heat the oven to 170°C (150°C)/ gas mark 3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan and brown the lamb in batches if necessary. Transfer to a casserole dish.
Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and gently fry the onion for 10 minutes until softened. Turn up the heat slightly and continue cooking and stirring until golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in the flour and spices then cook over a medium heat for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the stock. Bring to the boil then pour over the lamb in the casserole. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours until tender.
Transfer the casserole to a medium hob. Add the rhubarb and simmer for 10 minutes until the rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape. Check the consistency of the sauce: it it’s too thin, strain the meat and rhubarb and keep warm. Return the liquid to the pan and bubble rapidly until thickened and slightly syrupy. Check the seasoning and return the lamb and rhubarb to the sauce. Stir in the chopped herbs. Serve immediately with saffron rice (see below), or any other carbohydrate of your choice! Hearty chunky steamed vegetables should be fine too especially if you’re trying to cut back on carbs that day.
- 350 g, 1 3/4 cups washed and drained white basmati rice
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, or more according to taste
- pinch of saffron
- 25 g / 1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil of your choice, optional
Fill 3/4 of a large pan with water, add salt, and bring to the boil on a medium to high heat. Once the mixture is bubbling away, add the rice and bring to the boil. DO NOT leave the kitchen and pan at this stage because you want the rice to be nice and fluffy and not like the mushy consistency of risotto.
Meanwhile, place the saffron in a pestle and mortar and crush until it’s almost powdery. Add 1 tablespoon of boiling water to the saffron and mix until you get a beautiful golden, almost red, thick liquid. Leave aside.
Once the rice starts boiling vigorously, test a grain, it should be about half-cooked with a slight crunch. If not yet there, leave it to bubble away for a few more minutes but always keep an eye on it. Once a few tested rice grains are half-cooked, drain well in a colander.
Return the rice to the pan, add butter or oil, if using, adding about 3 tablespoons of the drained rice to the saffron liquid. Cook the remaining rice on a very low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. Once done, fluff up the rice carefully with a fork and serve either serve with the golden saffron on top or mixed with the rest of the rice, for a marbled rice effect.