Spring Lamb and Rhubarb Stew
As a young girl, I spent nearly as much time in the backyard of our neighbors, the Switzers, as I did in my own neck of the woods. Part of the draw was their abundant vegetable garden, which held far more appeal than the colorful patch of annuals my mother always planted. We’d wander amongst the plants, pulling peas and plucking strawberries. Best of all was the rhubarb, which we’d snap off like stalks of celery and eat raw, dunked in granulated sugar…. ….dunk, bite, dunk, bite. Good thing we didn’t sink our teeth into the sturdy leaves; it turns out they are quite toxic.
I’m not sure I ate properly cooked rhubarb until I discovered the delights of strawberry rhubarb pie as an adult. And it wasn’t until I started cooking Afghan food that I considered using rhubarb for anything but dessert. Ever the resourceful ones, Afghans use rhubarb in pickles, jams and most especially for savory stews. It is a vegetable, after all.
Rhubarb is thought to have its roots in Asia and was originally highly sought after for its medicinal qualities. Apparently it cleanses the blood. I’m not sure what that means exactly; I just know that it’s only here for a brief stint in the spring, and that time is now. The tart, tender-when-cooked, drop dead gorgeous qualities of rhubarb make for some pretty wonderful dishes.
This recipe here is new to both Humaira and me. We adapted it from Helen Saberi’s Afghan Food & Cookery. It’s a qorma, basically a stew, made with lamb, seasoned with cardamom, cumin and black pepper. It cooks a good long while until the lamb is fork tender, and almost candied from loads of onions. Then the whole thing is finished off when pieces of rhubarb are tucked in amongst the meat and it all continues to cook until everything is meltingly tender. Over rice it’s a luscious and unique dish.
Spring Lamb and Rhubarb Stew
Qorma e Rawash
1 ½ lbs. lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and black pepper
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp. tomato sauce
¾ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground cardamom
1 lb. rhubarb, cut into 2-inch lengths.
1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Liberally season the lamb with the salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy, lidded pot over medium-high heat. Cook the meat until deeply browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Add the remaining 2 tbsp. of oil to the Dutch oven and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until tender and golden brown. Add the lamb back to the pot along with ¼ tsp. black pepper, tomato, cumin, cardamom, and ½ cup of water. Put the lid on the pot, and cook at a gentle simmer over low heat until the lamb is tender. Check the lamb every 15 minutes or so and add water, ¼ cup at a time, if there is not much liquid in the pot. Once the lamb is very tender, add the rhubarb, tucking it in between the pieces of lamb. Put the lid back on and cook until the rhubarb is tender (10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks) but not losing its shape. Sprinkle the cilantro over the top and serve with challaw or steamed basmati rice.
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