Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rhubarb: Tamarind of the Temperate World

Rhubarb is a wonderful plant, especially because it thrives even in harsh northern locations like here. If you live in Canada and can't grow rhubarb, I would say that you might have a problem!

Until a few years ago, I believed that everybody knew about rhubarb. Alas, this was untrue. We know two South African families that moved to La Ronge and got to discover rhubarb as a novel plant. We warned them about not eating the leaves, though this seemed to result in unnecessary paranoia. They wondered at the wisdom of eating only selective parts of "poisonous plants". The other family had a problem with young hoodlums grabbing the leaves off the rhubarb, playing with them, and littering the neighbourhood with them. That family ripped all the stalks and leaves off their plant, thinking they killed it. But no, the rhubarb lived on. It takes more than that to kill a rhubarb.

My rhubarb cookbook - with an introduction by the late
Canadian gardener, Lois Hole.

But back to my title. Have you tried tamarind? It is a sticky brown substance scraped out of pods of the tamarind plant and used to bring tang to such condiments as HP sauce and worcestershire sauce. I imagine the adventuresome British developed a fondness for this sour foodstuff while living in India. It is very very sour (like rhubarb) and needs sugar to sweeten it for candies or drinks, but can also be used to add a tart tang to savoury dishes. It is especially good with fish and I love tamarind chutney on East Indian dishes, especially samosas. The first time I tried tamarind chutney, I became nearly obsessed with finding out what this was and how I could make some myself! My tropical friends all knew about tamarind, of course, but I think it will take some more time and convince them about rhubarb.
Recipe for tamarind chutney:

2 Tbsp tamarind paste (can buy this from Asian grocery, or in
my case, off ebay)

5 Tbsp water

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

finely chopped cilantro leaves, to garnish
1. Place tamarind past in a large bowl. Gradually add the water, gently whisking with a fork to make a smooth, runny paste.

2. Add the chili powder and ginger to the mixture and blend. Add the salt and sugar and mix well.

3. Transfer the chutney to a serving dish, garnish with chopped fresh cilantro, and serve.

Note: It has a consistency thinner than most gravies and is quite spicy and tangy, but leaves you wanting more!


Gina said...

I love love love the Rhubarb plants! My girlfriend has one and it is HUGE! I've only tasted Rhubarb pie once but I'd love to grow this just because of the big pretty leaves. I just don't have the space for it. I may pick this book up for my friend.

Christa said...

We have a large population of Salvadorans in our area and their restaurants usually offer a tamarind drink, which I love. I am curious to know what the plant looks like. I've never seen one.

Gardenista said...

That's a good point Christa, I have no idea what tamarind looks like, other than that I think it is a tree! My mother-in-law makes a nice rhubarb juice -- I can't imagine rhubarb juice is very well known anywhere else in the world!