Making the most of the short forced rhubarb season, this warm salad bowl combines spelt grain with maple roasted rhubarb and smoked mackerel.
I find dishes like this tricky to name. Do you go down the long winded descriptive route – ‘warm spelt with maple roasted rhubarb, spinach and flaked smoked mackerel’ , or actually just stick to a super simple list of ingredients? I do love the current restaurant trend for just listing a few of the key ingredients. I think it creates a certain sense of mystery, leaving you to ponder on how the ingredients might have been prepared and what else might be in the dish. So, that’s what I’m doing today, starting by picking out and naming the ingredients that define the flavour and the texture of the dish. Spinach and yoghurt are important parts of this recipe yes, but it’s the sour tang of the rhubarb, the chew of the spelt and the peppery rich mackerel that I want to draw you in with.
The inspiration for this dish is most definitely the pink forced rhubarb. Gracing our kitchens from late January to late March the season really is over all too quickly. Forced rhubarb in the UK usually comes via Yorkshire, grown in the 9 mile region called the ‘Yorkshire triangle’. After being cultivated outside it’s moved indoors to growing sheds to be grown in the dark. The indoor warmth and lack of light force it to keep its salmon pink colour. Forced rhubarb tastes different to the outdoor rhubarb we get later in year (grown in allotments and gardens up and down the land). More delicate, tender and less sour. Though still sour enough to mean that you can’t really eat it without sweetening it up a bit.
I’ve been using forced rhubarb in desserts where possible for the last two months (hello rhubarb upside down cake!), but now is the time to find a savoury use for it. I usually opt to roast the rhubarb, because it maintains its shape that way. Poaching does of course cook work, but leave it just a second too long in the pan and it will transform into a stewed mess. This is perfect if you’re making a jam or a compote, less so if you want it to add a crunch to your salad.
Rhubarb often tends to get paired with oily fish and rich meats because it’s sour acidic nature is the perfect companion to cut through anything fatty. I initially thought about some poached trout for this recipe, but in the end went with good old smoked mackerel. The fish isn’t essential to the dish, so if you’re not into it you can easily leave it out.
I’m really getting into cooking with alternative grains, last summer was all about freekeh, and spelt is my latest instalment. You’re probably already familiar with spelt flour, but maybe less so with it in its grain form? Spelt grain is worthwhile seeking out, because the firm chewy texture you get really contrasts well with the softer ingredients in this dish. I used pearled spelt, which (much like pearled barley which you can sub for spelt) has the outer husk removed by being bounced on rotating stones. Pearled spelt doesn’t doesn’t deliver as much fibre as the whole grain, but still more than, say refined white rice. I have to confess I chose it on this occasion because it was all that they had available in the shop, but I guess it’s also a benefit for convenience as it cooks in 15-20 mins rather than 1 hour.
Spelt is a variety of wheat, so this version of the recipe isn’t suitable for coeliacs or the wheat intolerant. I’d try replacing it with brown, Carmargue, Nerone or wild rice rather than quinoa or buckwheat which don’t quite deliver the desired texture you’d want here.
Love the idea of cooking with forced rhubarb? Here are some recipe ideas;
- My rhubarb khoresh from last year – actually made with regular rhubarb but this would happily work
- Rhubarb and raspberry compote from my app
- Rhubarb galette with orange spelt flakey pastry from Tin & Thyme
- Rhubarb and ginger smoothie bowl from Farmersgirl Kitchen
- Rhubarb streusel Manuka honey muffins from Foodie Quine
- Rhubarb and ginger gin from Fuss Free Flavours
- Two ingredient rhubarb compote from Planet Veggie
- Blueberry and rhubarb cardamom crunch bars from Kellie’s Food to Glow
Spelt, Rhubarb and Smoked Mackerel
- 180g pearled spelt
- 150g forced rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces on the diagonal
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 plump garlic clove, minced
- pinch saffron (optional, but a lovely touch)
- 2 large handfuls baby spinach
- olive oil
- sea salt
- 2 fillets of peppered mackerel, flaked
- dollop of Greek yoghurt
- A wedge of lemon
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C (fan)
- Rinse the spelt well, and add to medium-sized saucepan. Cover with cold water, and bring to the boil. Turn to a light simmer and cook for 15 minutes, until the spelt still has some bite. Drain and set aside.
- Put the saffron in a small bowl and pour over 2 tablespoons warm water.
- Meanwhile add the rhubarb to a roasting tray and toss well with the maple syrup, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10 minutes until fork tender.
- Put the dry saucepan back on the heat, with a tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the garlic for around a minute, then add the spelt into the pan along with the saffron. Stir well. Next add in the spinach and allow to wilt in the heat of the pan. Add in the roasted rhubarb, half of the mackerel, season with a pinch of salt, then turn out into a serving bowl. Top with the rest of the mackerel and add a good dollop of thick Greek yoghurt.
Before you go, I just wanted to let you know about a supper club I am hosting in London this May 11th. It’s the start of a series I’ve named ‘The Seasonal Supper’s, and this one focuses on the brilliant produce of spring. I’ve definitely gone down the start ingredient route of naming my dishes too. If you’re London based and free that evening I would love to cook for you. More info here…
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