I love that with each new season comes fresh and exciting produce to play with. You’d think that I would have run out of fruits and veggies to try by now, but this is not the case! A trip to the market always reveals something that has not graced my plate and serves as inspiration to use an old favorite in a totally new way.
This spring, I took it upon myself to become better friends with rhubarb. Yes, I have tried it before in pies and jams snuggled with strawberries, but when I started seeing it in shops this season, I realized I didn’t really know how it tasted on its own. This got me experimenting and using rhubarb in slightly less conventional ways. My grilled rhubarb was a hit, but it never left the sweet dish arena, and I knew there was room to push the envelope.
After trolling through my cookbooks looking for some off-the-wall rhubarb inspiration, I found just what I was looking for in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Not even a recipe, but a mere suggestion at the conclusion of one, was to add rhubarb to his lentil stew. Bingo.
Being a huge fan of lentils and daals, I set out to make my own rhubarb lentil stew, with a few tweaks here and there. I can’t believe how good it tastes! It’s almost as if rhubarb is that missing link: it imparts a fantastic acidity where I would usually turn to lemon or vinegar. And the texture is lovely, too. In this recipe the rhubarb melts into the lentils, almost disappearing, leaving behind its signature tang. The whole dish is tasty, unfussy, and satisfying!
I hope this recipe inspires you to break out of the strawberry-rhubarb rut and try this seasonal vegetable (yes, it’s a vegetable) in a totally new way.
While the stew was simmering on the stove, I whipped up Cilantro Oil to give the tangy-spiciness of the lentils a bright flavor. It's totally optional, but really does elevate the dish, like most chutneys that accompany Indian cuisine. You can also use the cilantro oil on pasta, eggs, or as a sandwich spread.
This whole meal is a major, major wealth of fiber, which spells a-w-e-s-o-m-e for your digestion! Fiber is exclusively a plant nutrient, as plants need fiber for structural support. Animals have bones and muscles instead, so fiber is not a significant part of their composition. Increasing our dietary intake of plants in comparison to animal-based foods means an increase in our fiber intake. Makes sense, right? Countries with the most food processing and highest percentage of animal food intake also have the lowest consumption of dietary fiber— as little as 10 to 15 grams per day, whereas some African countries put us to shame with daily intakes as high as 75 to 100 grams! Low-fiber diets are associated with constipation, gastrointestinal disorders, diverticulosis, and colon cancer, while a high-fiber diet may prevent these problems.
So much of our nourishment depends on the healthy passage of food through our digestive tracts. Without fiber, balanced digestion is impossible. Imbalanced digestion brings on the risk of poor nutrient absorption, which can then spur poor metabolism and health protection. The risk of most chronic diseases is lowest when whole plant foods, like a simple serving of this Rhubarb-Lentil Sweet Potato Stew, are plentiful in the diet. Ideally, one should aim for at least 35 grams of fiber a day, and with a healthy, whole-foods diet, this is an easy goal to reach.
Rhubarb and Sweet Potato Lentil Stew
1 cup red lentils
2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
5 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 tsp cayenne (or to your taste)
1 ½ cups diced onions
2 Tbsp tamari
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-size pieces
7 stalks rhubarb, cut into bite-size pieces
5 cups water
1 to 2 Tbsp honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Steamed brown rice, quinoa, millet, or toasted whole-grain pita, for serving
1. Wash lentils well by covering them with water in a large bowl and swishing around until the water is murky. Drain and repeat until water is clear (usually 3 to 4 times). Set aside.
2. Melt the ghee or coconut oil in a large pot on the stove. Add the dried spices and stir constantly, ensuring that they do not burn. When the spices smell fragrant, add onions and tamari and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and ginger. If the mixture is too dry, add a little water to prevent burning.
3. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer until lentils are cooked, about 30 minutes. Stir in the honey and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Serve over steamed brown rice, quinoa, millet, or with whole-grain pitas. Drizzle with Cilantro Oil (below).
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp honey
Pinch sea salt
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend in high until the sauce is relatively smooth. Season to taste. Serve over stew. Store leftovers in the fridge.
Sarah Britton is a holistic nutritionist, vegetarian chef, and the creator of the award-winning blog My New Roots. Sarah is currently a chef at three organic restaurants in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she has earned praise for her creative and adventurous recipes. A certified nutritional practitioner, she is also the founder of New Roots Holistic Nutrition, where she educates others to be an active participant in their own health and healing.