Rhubarb and greens are classic spring tonics. The reason for this is that they are among the first things to grow to a usable size in springtime, even faster than those other delights, strawberries and lettuce.
By "greens" here, we usually mean members of the Crucifer (Brassicaceae) family like spring mustards, spinach, or wild greens like nettles. Spinach may overwinter in your area and begin growing even before the last spring frost. The others need not wait upon the last frost to be planted, and they grow to usable size within 30-45 days after planting. If you gather greens from the wild, they may be ready even earlier.
Rhubarb may be used as soon as you have twice as much as you want to harvest. Don't ever take all of a plant's usable stalks from it, and don't ever use the leaves of rhubarb, as they are poisonous.
The traditional manner of using greens and rhubarb is just to cook them up in water (with a little salt pork in the greens and sugar in the rhubarb). You may get the nutritional benefit of the foods this way, but this doesn't excite the imagination much (or inspire children to adore the foods). If you would also like to make tasty meals around your spring tonics, try the following recipes.
Lentil and greens soup
An easy soup with a full-flavored broth that serves four.
1 cup diced onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. celery seed
6 cups stock or water
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
½ cup dry lentils
2 Tbsp. tamari
1 cup macaroni or small pasta shells
1 tsp. dried savory, crushed
8-10 oz. spinach or other greens
In a large pot or Dutch oven, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is transparent. Add the minced garlic, and cook another three minutes.
Add the carrots, bay leaf, celery seed, stock or water, tomatoes, lentils and tamari, and simmer until the lentils are tender (30-40 minutes). Add the pasta and savory, and cook until the pasta is tender, about 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash and chop the greens into 1-inch pieces. Chop the stems finely. Stir the greens into the soup, and bring back to the boil. Serve as soon as the soup is heated through and the greens are wilted.
Spring greens with cornmeal dumplings
You can use any kind of cooking green for this, like mustard or turnip greens. This also serves four.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 oz. dried mushrooms, soaked (recommend Boletus)
warm water to soak mushrooms
2 Tbsp. tamari
2 lbs. spring greens, washed and chopped
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup milk
1 cup grated jack cheese
Make this whole dish in a large, deep cast iron skillet for which you have a lid (my skillet is 10 inches across by 3 inches deep). Start by sauteing the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are transparent. Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water (just enough to cover them) in a small dish for 10 minutes. When they are soft, drain the soaking water onto the onions. Chop the mushrooms and add to the skillet. Add the tamari and Tabasco. Simmer until the liquid is reduced and thick.
Meanwhile, get the dumpling dough ready. In a small bowl, stir together the pastry flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the eggs, milk, and grated cheese. Set both bowls ready on the side.
Wash, pick over, and chop the greens coarsely. Add to the skillet, and cover with a lid. Turn the heat to low, and cook just long enough to wilt the greens. Stir to mix the greens and the onions.
Combine the two bowls of dumpling ingredients by pouring the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir just to combine (don't overmix and don't worry about a few lumps or a dry spot), then drop by spoonfuls over the greens in the skillet. Cover with the lid, and simmer on medium-low heat for 16-18 minutes, until the dumplings are firm and springy.
Serve immediately by spooning the dumplings and sauce into soup plates.
Rhubarb buttermik cake
Rhubarb needs no added moisture to make a cake, so to get great flavor, I use powdered buttermilk (available at health food stores or in the powdered milk section of the grocery). This makes one 8 by 8 inch cake of 16 pieces:
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
11/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ cup buttermilk powder
3 cups diced rhubarb
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and oil an 8 by 8 by 2 inch square pan lightly. Sprinkle about half the chopped nuts over the bottom of the pan, and set aside.
Measure the flour, baking soda, and buttermilk powder into a medium bowl. Stir until well blended. Dice the rhubarb ¼ to ½ inch (to your taste, it does not need to be perfectly regular). Toss the rhubarb with the dry ingredients and set aside.
Measure 1/3 cup honey, and add the oil, egg, and vanilla to it right in the measuring cup. Stir together well, then scrape it out over the rhubarb mixture. Toss and stir until ingredients are thoroughly moistened. The mixture will be stiff.
Spoon the mixture into the pan, being careful to distribute evenly over the nuts without disturbing them. Push down and smooth over the top. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake tests done.
Let rest in the pan 10 minutes to cool, then slice 4 times each direction and remove the pieces to a rack with a spatula. Serve warm, or let cool thoroughly and then store in an airtight container. This resists becoming soggy, but it is best eaten the first or second day.
This is great for breakfast or a not-too-sweet dessert. The recipe makes a 5 by 9 inch loaf.
1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. honey
½ tsp salt
¼ cup oil
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup honey
2 cups diced rhubarb (¼ to ½ inch)
In a large bowl, proof the yeast with the honey in the warm water. When the yeast foams, add the egg, salt, oil, and honey. Mix together the milk powder, soy flour, gluten flour, and first 2 cups of bread flour. Add to the yeast mixture, and beat well until strands of gluten form. Add enough more bread flour to make a stiff dough. Cover and let rise for 1/2 hour while you dice the rhubarb.
Dice the rhubarb ¼ to ½ inch. Don't worry about making it regular. Pour the honey over it and stir. Set aside.
Lightly oil a 5 by 9 inch loaf pan. Set aside. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and springy, 5-7 minutes. Roll out to an oblong about 9 by 15 inches. Spread the rhubarb openly over the dough oblong, with its juice. Starting with a short edge, roll the dough up into a 9 inches long loaf. Place the loaf in the pan. Let rise until increased in bulk by 50%.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, until the bread tests done.
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