Category Archives: Spring

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

This year in the Netherlands, spring came rather early. We’ve had already many warm sunny days in March and April which I hope don’t run out later in the summer. What a huge change from 2013 where at this time last year, we were still cocooned in winter jackets and it was snowing at Easter. Winter seemed as if it would never leave.

The gardens have been loving this early warm weather, although a little more rain would have been ideal. As I mentioned in my last post, spring is always a difficult season in terms of fresh harvest but the first radishes and lettuces have already made it to the kitchen and the seedlings for the summer vegetables are growing fast.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying one of my two favourite Dutch spring ingredients: rhubarb! (white asparagus is the other one) Indulge in rhubarb now until early summer. Lucky for us, rhubarb loves to grow in colder climates – I will remember to be grateful for this next time I’m complaining about the cold. I always look forward to spotting the exquisite pink and red stalks at the market and I just can’t resist buying rhubarb because it looks so beautiful. We tend to see more pink and red rhubarb for sale because it’s more popular with consumers but green rhubarb is equally tasty and the colour makes no difference to the taste – well it can’t get any more sour! Choose firm unblemished stalks and discard the leaves.

I discovered rhubarb only a few years ago but now I’m making up for lost time and look for any opportunity to include its sour explosion in my spring dishes. Traditionally rhubarb was used in sweet dishes but it works equally well as an accompaniment for savoury dishes – think smoked mackerel or roast pork. Rhubarb loves to be paired with orange and spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla, and when the first strawberries are ready, you know what to make – strawberry and rhubarb pie and jam! It’s lovely as a compote or poached whole in the oven with a sprinkling of sugar – use the leftover juice in a gorgeous sparkling drink or cocktail. Spring just got better!

PS I love Nigel Slater’s rhubarb recipes: see herehere and here.

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Kale

Boerenkool

Make friends with kale.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing a post about kale on the warmest day of the year so far in the Netherlands. Winter seems far behind us and spring is already in the air. After all, kale is a vegetable eaten during the cold, dark hours of winter. Well, if you look outside in the fields and allotments right now, you’ll notice there’s not a whole lot growing in the ground. Perhaps a handful of vegetables of which the trusty kale is one.

This time of year was traditionally known as the ‘Hungry Gap’, a time when last summer/autumn’s stored harvest were dwindling or fast deteriorating and the first spring vegetables would not appear until May. While greenhouses and all-year food at supermarkets have pretty much bridged the 21st century hungry gap, it’s still a tricky time for seasonal locally-grown food – yes the daffodils and blossoms are now in bloom but many vegetable plants aren’t ready to plant yet and the berries and fruits aren’t quite ready to wake up. As the weather warms, we automatically start to crave lighter foods like vibrant greens, tomatoes and the like and sweet summer fruits – we’ll have to wait a few more months for these real seasonal foods to arrive.

Boerenkool_2

In the meantime while the evenings are still cold enough, why not indulge in kale? It’s still growing happily outside, is abundant in the Netherlands and is available to buy everywhere. Buy whole leaves and shred them at home or try pre-shredded packets. Look for dark green leaves without any yellow blemishes. Stamppot is the country’s favourite way of cooking kale – boiled and mashed with potatoes and other veges or perhaps with bacon. Today, there are many other delicious recipes for cooking kale. Tuscan Ribollita soup is one of my favourites as is a simple stir fry with garlic, chili, soy, and lime – blanch the kale quickly first before frying so the leaves cook faster and don’t dry out. Kale loves to be paired with something sour like a citrus fruit or vinegar or something super salty like anchovy or bacon. Try this pasta with chili, lemon and anchovy for a quick tasty weeknight dinner. Just don’t overcook kale, otherwise your kitchen will smell like rotten egg for days…..

Some early spring ingredients (grown outside) to enjoy:
Forced rhubarb – grown indoors in the dark – is available now, while regular rhubarb is available from april/ may onwards.
Green asparagus should be ready to eat sometime in late April.
Wild garlic can be foraged in April.
Winter postelein is good now.