I have to confess that the first time I made this dish I was very doubtful. Normally when I decide to make a new dish I can imagine how the flavors would be together in my head, if they would work well together, play off each other etc. Somehow I could not do that for this dish, I think I tried it as a form of rubber necking. I needed to make it so I could see what it tasted like, if it would work.
I realize now that the reason I could not imagine the taste is I had only ever tried rhubarb either sweetened or raw from the garden. When you sweeten rhubarb you mask some of its flavor, which I think for many people is the intent. Conversely rhubarb eaten uncooked from the garden has an astringent quality to me. Raw it is not only the tartness that you can taste, for me it is almost bitter. This is not true for everyone, I have a friend who loves to eat it straight from her yard, or with a little salt.
Well I discovered that when you cook rhubarb it mellows it a little, making it a little sour but in a complex way, very much like some of my favorite middle eastern braises that use lemon and artichokes. In this recipe the lamb is braised until tender and then the rhubarb is added at the end and cooked just long enough to become tender and mellow its bite. The rhubarb in the finished dish is silky, a little sour but balanced by the other flavors. The overall stew is rich and wonderful. Now that I have discovered this dish I want to find other truly savory uses for rhubarb, ones with no added sugar. I am trying to figure out other preparations that would have the strength to stand up to the full flavor of the unsweetened rhubarb. While I struggle with that I may just make this one again.
Lamb Stew with Mint and Rhubarb
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 shallots chopped
1 scallion white and all but darkest green portions chopped (or sub another type of onion for the shallot and scallion)
1 clove garlic minced (cut in half first and remove sprout if there is any)
1 1/2 lbs leg of lamb trimmed of all fat and cut in to 1 inch cubes
1 tsp ground coriander seed
3/4 tsp Vermont Baharat (optional, but if you decide to make some it is great on grilled meats as well)
3 cups water
1/4 cup fresh mint chopped
1/4 cup cilantro chopped (or use flat leaf parsley)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
approximately 2-5 cups rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch segments, sliced lengthwise if over 3/4 inches wide (the original recipe calls for 2-3 stalks, I used 3 huge stalks and really liked the results)
Heat the oil in a wide pot, I used a 5 qt Le Creuset, cook stirring often until translucent. Push the onions to the side of the pot and add some of the lamb pieces and brown them. As the pieces brown remove them to a bowl and add more pieces to brown.
When all the lamb is brown return the other pieces and collected juices back to the pot and add the coriander, baharat and water. Cover the pot loosely and simmer until the lamb is tender, about an hour. Check occasionally to make sure the stew does not dry out and add more water as needed.
When the lamb is tender season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then stir in the mint and cilantro. Set the pieces of rhubarb on top of the stew and cover tightly and cook over low heat for a few minutes until the rhubarb is tender. (It is actually also good if you get impatient and turn the heat up and some of it melts into the sauce. I have tried it both ways. Not that I am advocating impatience when cooking, but it happens, especially with hungry children pestering the cook)
Serve with the whole rhubarb pieces on top of the stew with rice.