Springtime specialty goes in savory salad

The weekend’s summerlike temperatures didn’t just boost my body temperature. So much sweat equity in my garden kicked off a craving for ripe, juicy fruit.

But if you try to confine your produce purchases to fruits of the Northern Hemisphere, you’ve noticed that springtime is slim pickings. A few types of California and Florida citrus fruits are about your best bet, along with some Mexican mangoes and a few other tropical species.

Fortunately, for the strictly seasonal eater (to which I aspire), rhubarb steps in to quench fruit cravings. Actually a vegetable, as explained in my April Season to Taste column in HomeLife magazine, rhubarb most often is prepared with plenty of sugar to temper its naturally sour disposition.

Perhaps that’s why rhubarb recipes can seem a bit repetitive: plenty of pies, puddings, crisps, crumbles, chutneys, sauces and syrups. I’ve always suspected that rhubarb deserves to retain its integrity, but I’ve always encountered it as some sort of mush inside of or top of a more recognizable food.

This recipe for pickling rhubarb remedies that issue. And it provides a savory twist for a something usually served sweet. And it rewards gardeners’ efforts to cultivate kale to sustain them this time of year.

If you want another fresh take on rhubarb, visit Ashland Food Co-op between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday for a taste of Beet-Rhubarb Jam, the subject of a previous post, which tickled the fancy of Co-op culinary educator Mary Shaw.

MCT photo

Confetti Salad of Kale and Rhubarb

1 cup rhubarb, cut into 1⁄4-inch pieces

1⁄3 cup sugar

1⁄2 cup white balsamic vinegar

1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 bunch (12 to 15 leaves) lacinato kale (also called dinosaur kale)

3 tablespoons walnut oil

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces aged Gouda, cut into fat matchsticks (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon butter

1⁄2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, preferably sourdough

1⁄2 cup candied walnuts (recipe follows), roughly chopped

Place the rhubarb in a shallow, heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vinegar, the 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and mustard seeds; bring to a boil and cook until sugar dissolves. Pour mixture over rhubarb and let sit at room temperature for at least 3 hours before using. Pickles’ flavor improves if refrigerated overnight. Any leftover pickling liquid can be refrigerated for future use.

To make salad, remove center rib from the kale leaves, stack several pieces, then slice crosswise into a fine julienne. You should end up with about 5 cups. Rinse kale and pat dry between paper towels or use a salad spinner.

Drain rhubarb from pickling liquid, but reserve liquid for vinaigrette. Whisk together 3 tablespoons pickling liquid and the walnut oil. Season with a hefty pinch of salt and the pepper to taste. Toss kale with dressing, then gently fold in the cheese and drained rhubarb. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so kale softens a bit; it can chill for up to 3 hours.

Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the breadcrumbs, stirring to coat. Cook, stirring, until crumbs are golden and crisp. Set aside.

Before serving, toss salad again, add breadcrumbs and the walnuts; toss once more.

CANDIED WALNUTS: Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set aside. Combine 1⁄4 cup water and 1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add 1 cup walnut halves and continue to stir for about 5 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken. Pour out onto parchment paper, separating walnuts with a fork. Sprinkle with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cool completely. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to a month.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe from “Rhubarb Renaissance,” by Kim Ode (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 120 pages, $16.95).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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