Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rhubarb Asparagus Couscous

Remember how you felt when you learned a tomato is really a fruit?  Well that's exactly how I felt when I learned rhubarb is really a vegetable.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around that one.  Truthfully, I know embarrassingly little about rhubarb.  I know it pops up in the spring, but it's somewhat of an enigma to me, and maybe to you too.  I've had rhubarb sure, but always paired with strawberries in pies, tarts, crumbles and jams.  Perhaps this is why I assumed rhubarb was a fruit.  It always collides with strawberries.  I make my fair share of strawberry rhubarb crumbles each spring too.  I assumed rhubarb needed its strawberry counterpart, the two calling for each another on the brink of spring's arrival, bleeding together in a vat of sugary sweetness.  If you were to ask me what rhubarb tastes like, I couldn't tell you. 

So I bought a few stalks of rhubarb.  Earthy and tough, they're not the most beautiful specimens.  They look like celery stalks dunked in Kool-Aid.  I discovered that eating rhubarb raw is like biting into a lemon, extremely tart, mouth watering and lip puckering.  I'm willing to bet that instead of grabbing a coffee during that late afternoon crash, you could gnaw on a rhubarb stalk with excellent results.  If that doesn't awaken your senses, I don't know what will.  But don't be scared.  When you cook rhubarb down, it mellows out a little.  It doesn't completely lose its tartness, but if you're into squirting lemons over your food like I am, you might be inclined to give it a try.  Cooked rhubarb is almost like a cross between a lemon and a pear.  It doesn't look particularly enticing when cooked down, but that doesn't bother me so much.  I've been seeing rhubarb more and more in savory dishes and it got me thinking.  If rhubarb is technically a vegetable, maybe rhubarb could be paired with a vegetable of the spring variety.

This all came to light when I cracked the spine on a special cookbook I've been meaning to spend some time with.  I intended to dote over it much sooner, but suppose I've been distracted.  I received Didi Emmons 'Wild Flavors'as a gift for Christmas and sadly have just gotten around to reading it.  I regret it's taken me so long to do so.  The book chronicles the year Boston chef Didi Emmons spent cooking from Eva Sommaripa farm.  Eva supplies Boston restaurants with her sought after bounty, an eclectic assortment of prized organic herbs, edible flowers, and specialty greens.  She's somewhat of a legend.  The book is full of charm and humor, and educates about lesser known herbs and edible weeds.  It's an interesting perspective on a way of life that's unfamiliar to most of us.

I began flipping through the book's section on spring, and more specifically on rhubarb.  There's a great selection of intriguing rhubarb recipes, including one with an unlikely combination of asparagus and rhubarb.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  So long rhubarb and strawberries.  Hello rhubarb and asparagus.  The two share the same harvest season after all.  Didi's recipe appealed to me because of its unlikely duo yes, but also because of its quick preparation and short ingredient list.  By using fresh seasonal ingredients, there's little work left on my part.  The asparagus and rhubarb are thinly sliced and cooked in butter over warm heat.  The asparagus remain crisp and tender while the rhubarb mellowed, but still tasted bright and slightly tart.  It gets served on a bed of Israeli couscous and topped with chives and slivered almonds, making for a most interesting springtime lunch.  It feels good to shake up the springtime status quo.

~Rhubarb Asparagus Couscous Recipe~
Adapted from Wild Flavors, Didi Emmons

2 cups whole wheat Israeli couscous 
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb asparagus
2 small rhubarb stalks, or 1 large
3 tbsp butter
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Handful of chives, snipped
1/4 cup slivered almonds
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add couscous and allow to toast for about 3-5 minutes.  Add in vegetable stock or water.  Bring up to a boil and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, until the water has evaporated.

While couscous is cooking, prepare your asparagus and rhubarb.  Remove tough ends of asparagus and cut into 1/4" diagonal slices, leaving the tips in tact.  Cut rhubarb into 1/4" slices also.

Heat butter over medium-high heat in a cast iron or skillet pan.  Add the asparagus and tips, cooking, stirring, and tossing for about 3 minutes.  Add in rhubarb and continue to toss and cook for another few minutes.  Keep an eye on the rhubarb, as it can turn mushy quickly.  Remove from the heat when the asparagus is a bit crispy but also tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Transfer couscous to a serving bowl or platter.  Drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil if you'd like.  Transfer the asparagus and rhubarb mixture over top.  Top with chives and slivered almonds.  Serve immediately.  Serves 6.


Inside a British Mum's Kitchen said...

What a fantastic salad - I love that you rhubarb in it - I never would have thought of using it in a savory way - thanks for a great recipe!
Mary x

Margarita said...

What a nice combination of spring time glory... I have always thought rhubarb was fruit! LOL! So, I always prepare it with honey... never would have thought of cooking it as a vegetable. I like the idea of rhubarb and asparagus together!

Amy said...

Oh wow! This is so cool, Stephanie! I always knew it was weird how rhubarb was only ever paired in a strawberry or raspberry sugar slurry, but I didn't know quite how to break out of that. I love how you describe it as a cross between a lemon and a pair. Definitely going to start looking and thinking about it that way, as well as trying to pair it in more savory items.

Eileen said...

I love how fruit has been creeping into more and more savory dishes in the past year or so, don't you? Even if the fruit is yes, technically a vegetable. :) What a great combination with the asparagus!

Pencil Kitchen said...

I've only had egyptian cous cous once, they were with grilled salmon with pesto and asparagus. They were heaven. You're making me want cous cous now.

Anna @ the shady pine said...

I adore rhubarb in just about any dish and his certainly looks vibrant and delicious!

Thyme (Sarah) said...

This looks delicious. I had no idea that people eat rhubarb any other way than in crumbles. I made a rhubarb compote with wildflower sabayon last year and we just nearly thought we were in heaven. But, again, that was sweet. I wish it grew readily up here but it needs the cooler climate of up north. I'm seeing in the stores but I know it's traveled far to get here... Wonderfully beautiful dish for Spring!

Sue/the view from great island said...

This is so inventive, and the book sounds great, I have to try and find a copy. I've been making salads out of Israeli couscous myself lately, I love the texture.

Stephanie said...

So nice to hear from so many of you. I'm glad you took a liking to this spring combination. Sarah-kudos to you for eating food sourced close to home. I guess we are lucky to have it up here! A rhubarb compote sounds lovely. Sue, I think you would love the book. It's divided up by seasons and is full of great stories and unusual herbs and vegetables. I plan to cook from it frequently this summer.

Jenny @ Ichigo Shortcake said...

Rhubarb and asparagus sounds like such an interesting and delicious blend of flavours! The salad looks so colourful and festive. :)