JEFF TIEDEMAN: Laying claim to rhubarbSometimes, I have the impression that people around here — and in the Midwest in general — lay special claim to rhubarb. I do.
Sometimes, I have the impression that people around here — and in the Midwest in general — lay special claim to rhubarb. I do.
One of the reasons I thought that is because in Cincinnati, where my stepdaughter Jess Week and her family live, they don’t have rhubarb. In fact, when my granddaughter, Naomi, and her boyfriend, Brandon, came for a visit last month, they said as much while we were eating a rhubarb dessert I had prepared from this year’s crop.
But on the contrary, despite this proprietary belief some of us have, rhubarb is grown in many areas across the U.S. and the world. (Because of greenhouse production, rhubarb is available year-round.)
I became more aware of this recently after Lillian Elsinga told me her neighbors, Mohammad Khvanin and Farrah Rahman, shared a delicious lamb dish that featured a rhubarb sauce.
Mohammad, a native of Iran, told me the recipe is a modified version of khoresht, a traditional stew that is popular in his homeland. (In Persian cuisines, there are many different khoreshts with several unique ingredients, inincluding spices such as saffron, turmeric and fenugreek, meats including lamb and beef and vegetables like eggplant, peas and okra.)
When I asked Mohammad if he minded passing on his version of the dish, he obliged but replied, “I usually don’t use a recipe.” Luckily, his wife had one written down.
He said that key to success in making the khoresht was not overcooking the rhubarb, also known as pie plant.
“The rhubarb cooks very fast,” Mohammad said. “You can substitute carrots and celery for the rhubarb, but it requires more (cooking) time.”
Of course, a lot of people I know are familiar with rhubarb sauce. Some like it on ice cream, while others prefer it plain just like my Grandpa Menard. My mom said he would have it for breakfast every morning this time of year. My grandma called it “spring tonic.”
Grandma wasn’t that far off. Rhubarb provides a good source of vitamin C, fiber and calcium. However, you should never eat rhubarb leaves, cooked or raw. Eating the leaves can be poisonous because they contain oxalate. This toxin, plus another unknown toxin also found in the leaves, has been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.
I must admit, though, that the idea of using rhubarb in a sauce for meat intrigued me and seemed a bit foreign at first. Then a friend, Pete Hougum, shared a recipe he really liked, one for baked pork loin roast that is served with a warm rhubarb sauce.
I guess this use of rhubarb shouldn’t come as a surprise to me. After all, I’ve seen rhubarb used in all sorts of things — from pies and cakes to jams and spreads to slushes and floats. Some more interesting examples can be found in a recently released cookbook “Rhubarb Renaissance” by Kim Ode (MHS Press, 128 pages, $16.95). Recipes include ones for Rhubarb Corn Fritters, Turkey Tenderloins with RhubarBQ Sauce, Spiced Couscous with Rhubarb and Figs and Chop-Chop Sweet and Sour Stir-fry. (There also are more traditional recipes.)
Another place I’ve discovered some unique creations is at the annual Rhubarb Festival at University Lutheran Church in Grand Forks.
The festival, started in 1992 by Pauline Bondy as a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity and the church, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. (Pauline, along with Jo Claire Paulson and Ardella Hefta, is co-chairing the event.) Sponsored by the women of the church, it runs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 9 at the church. Lunch and crafts will be available.
The main feature of the festival is a double-rhubarb crust pie contest. Judges will be WDAZ’s Terry Dullum, Ann Bailey of the Herald and Brenda Gjelsness, a program planner for the Grand Forks County Homemakers Council.
I have to admit, the contest sounds pretty interesting. Next to apple pie, rhubarb pie is one of my favorite desserts.
I wonder if there is room for another judge.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.