Rhubarb & Asparagus Spring Specials
By Anne L. Desjardins
It has become one of my yearly rituals: as soon as the ice on the huge lake Manitou or Forbes appears to be ready to give way I call my friends and neighbors Celine and Jack, whom I introduced to paddling two years ago, to start the annual preparation of the kayaks next to the garage.
We check the bungy cords, we inspect the bulkheads to make sure that dry compartments won't leak, we adjust the seats and check that every bolt is tightly secured. Then we inspect our equipment: bilge pumps, tow ropes, paddle floats, paddles, pfds, dry bags, wet suits; everything has to be in good order. Finally, we install the rooftop kayak racks and off we go for the first day of paddling of the year.
Time to create a special picnic
After a few hours of paddling on a secluded (and often windy!) lake we may feel a little rusted, with the torso and shoulder muscles a bit sorer than expected; nothing that can't be cured with a little rest on a deserted sandy beach, under 100 year old red pines that abound in the region. And, of course, everybody in the party expects me to properly highlight our first outing by bringing along a special spring time picnic menu: I won't be forgiven if I bring along some bland egg salad sandwiches or plain cheese with crackers and baby carrots today!
This year, I've decided to pick my favorite spring produce: crisp asparagus and rhubarb, which I plan to pair with snow crab and Nordic shrimps. Of course, these are not the type of ingredients that can be brought along for an extended paddling trip. But if you buy it very fresh, asparagus and rhubarb can easily keep for up to 4 days if properly wrapped in wet cloths and put in a perforated vegetable plastic bag placed in the bottom of the kayak, where they will keep cool thanks to the cold water temperatures. As for crab and shrimp, simply use canned versions if you plan a multi-day outing. For a longer trip, you could also prepare rhubarb compote at home instead of muffins. If you don't have fresh rhubarb in your garden or can't find it at your favorite farmer's market, simply use frozen rhubarb instead.
Rhubarb is an amazing product: it is easy to grow, it is loaded with soluble and insoluble fibers, which provide an outstanding protection against heart diseases, it is a very rich source of vitamin K (good to protect heart and bones against osteoporosis) and of calcium. Although in North America the British tradition of rhubarb pie has initiated a preference toward sweet dishes such as compote, crumbles and cakes, I find rhubarb pairs even better with savory ingredients such as pork, veal, chicken, and is delicious when added to rice pilafs, soups or ragouts. Celery and onions are natural friends for this plant that is considered a vegetable. In northern Europe many savory dishes include rhubarb. Its natural tartness makes it a good alternative to lemon in many recipes. When I was a kid, we used to simply dip fresh rhubarb stalks in sugar and to eat it raw as a special spring delicacy. Well, in Belgium and in Holland I have friends who eat it the same way, except that they replace sugar with salt!
Asparagus: simple spring pleasure
As for asparagus they are fantastic simply grilled 4 to 5 minutes with a bit of olive oil and served as is or in a rice or potato salad along with ham or seafood. They also make great sandwiches when paired with goat or cream cheese and a bit of red pepper jelly. For an easy pasta dish, simply add pieces of asparagus to your boiling pasta 2 minutes before it is completely cooked, drain well and season with olive oil, garlic, fresh grated parmesan cheese and you favorite herbs. Like rhubarb, asparagus is also rich in precious vitamin K, fibers, antioxidants (to help prevent chronic diseases and some cancers) and are a very good source of vitamin B9 (folate), which is crucial for women who wish to become pregnant. One pound of asparagus contains 12 to 15 spears. To prepare this exquisite vegetable, simply hold each end in both hands and bend gently until it breaks. Toss out the bottom part, which is fibrous and not good to eat.
My first spring paddling picnic menu of the season:
- Sweet and sour rhubarb dip with pita chips
- Asparagus and crab rice salad (or roasted asparagus focaccia)
- Rhubarb and pecan muffins(or rhubarb compote with ginger snaps)
Sweet and sour rhubarb dip with pita chips
(4 to 6 portions)
In a pan, slowly cook rhubarb with onion in oil over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until tender. Add currants, vinegar and cook over high heat for 1 more minute. Add honey and jalapeņo pepper and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from heat, add mint, coriander and sour cream. Serve with pita chips.
- 2 cups rhubarb pieces
- 3 tbsp organic canola oil
- 1 onion
- 1/3 cup currants
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp jalapeņo pepper
- 1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 4 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Pita chips
For a Multi-day trip: omit sour cream and serve as chutney instead.
Asparagus and crab rice salad
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients of the salad. In another bowl, mix all the ingredients of the dressing. Pour over the salad, toss gently and place in four individual air tight containers.
- 3 cups cooked long grain rice, drained and cooled
- 2 cups cooked asparagus spears, drained and cooled
- 12 oz snow crab meat
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 1 fresh mango, peeled and cubed
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
- 4 tbsp low fat mayonnaise
- 4 tbsp orange juice
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- Dash of hot sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
For a Multi-day outing: use 2 cans of crab; omit mayonnaise and replace with 3 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp sesame oil. Replace orange juice with lemon juice or cider vinegar. Replace fresh parsley with dried. Replace fresh mango with dried mango soaked 20 minutes in hot water.
Rhubarb and pecan muffins
(12 large muffins)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 12 large-sized muffin molds with butter. Sprinkle with flour and shake well. Remove excess flour. Set aside.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sunflower or organic canola oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cup finely chopped rhubarb
- 1/2 cup pecan pieces
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- Zest of 1 orange, finally grated
- 1 tbsp crystallized ginger, finally chopped
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
In a large bowl combine brown sugar with oil, egg and vanilla and beat with a whisk until well mixed. Add buttermilk, rhubarb and nuts. In another bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add orange rind and ginger. Add dry ingredients to rhubarb and buttermilk mixture and mix just enough to moisten ingredients. Do not over-mix because this would harden the muffins.
Fill the 12 muffin molds to 2/3 and cook in the center of the oven for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one muffin comes out clean. Let cool completely on a rack before removing from molds.
For a Multiday outing: muffins will keep for up to 3 days in airtight container. For a longer trip, bring rhubarb compote only with ginger snap cookies.