A little sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. And some trigeminal.

It’s been a while since I cooked anything fancy for myself. Probably since my last food challenge… There was a time over the last couple weeks where I made up one pound of black beans and forgot to put them on my tostadas. I was going to write about how I used up those black beans, but it would have  been a verrrrry boring post– put on leftover tostadas, put in soup, put on salads. You get the picture… I abandoned that idea.

Hopefully, you’re inspired by this food challenge. I created the recipe in my head over the last few weeks, and over time it kept getting more complex. I do usually cook very simple meals, but this wasn’t one of them. While I had a million things on my to do list today that I had to abandon due to lack of time, I refused to throw cooking a nice dinner off the list. Even if it took me two hours.

There were three rules involved in this challenge:
1.) Use up more of the rhubarb in my freezer: With the warmer weather and spring now in sight, I’m starting to get a little more serious about using the frozen produce I have in my freezer (green beans, snap peas, pasta sauce, pesto, rhubarb). I had 10 cups of rhubarb at the beginning of the weekend, and now I’m left with 6 cups. I’m not complaining at all! There’s something soooo amazing about rhubarb. I’ve really only used rhubarb in sweet desserts or jams, but this time I decided to use it in a savory application. By the way, yesterday I made rhubarb brownies because I knew that I could share them with friends during movie night and not eat the whole pan myself. Here’s the recipe: http://www.theendlessmeal.com/dark-chocolate-rhubarb-brownies/

All brownies should be made with rhubarb. So delicious!

Green! One of my prolific rhubarb plants.
2.) Use girl scout (shortbread) cookies: Yeah, you heard me. Girl scout cookies. It’s that time of the year again when coworkers start bringing in all those cookies at work. I have no self control when it comes to sweets and processed snacks in general, so I avoid them. Or try to avoid them. See, look at my pantry.
Top shelf: snack shelf, or lack thereof. Nuts. And raisins (for oatmeal). That’s it.
I was asked by a coworker (who reads this blog) if I would buy a box from her, and I said no thanks. Being a reader of my blog, she then challenged me to a.) buy a box, and b.) incorporate them in to my next food challenge. Of course, I could not say no to this…
3.) Incorporate the five basic taste sensations + spicy trigeminal sensation: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (umami is a meaty or brothy-type flavor) are the five basic taste sensations. The burning sensation that you get from something spicy can be classified as a trigeminal sensation. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Super nerdy, I know. I’m a food scientist for crying out loud! These five taste sensations are perceived in different ways, chemically, but they are ultimately all registered by our taste buds. The spiciness that you get from hot peppers, the coolness from mint, or the bubbly nature of carbonated beverages are not registered by the taste buds, but instead are registered by what’s called the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for sensation in the face and mouth including pain (spiciness can induce pain), temperature and touch, but NOT taste. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare you.
This idea got me super excited though, and my very simple meal exploded into a very complex meal from here. Rhubarb + girl scout cookies + sweet + sour + salty + bitter + umami + spicy. Woahhhh!
Before I describe my meal, I’ll break down the process a little:
Sweet: girl scout cookies (duh), caramelized onions
Sour: rhubarb
Salty: ummmmm salt used in recipe 🙂
Bitter: rhubarb, orange zest
Umami: ground turkey, chicken broth, caramelized onions (can take on a meat-like flavor)
Spicy: jalepeno peppers, red pepper flakes
The first thing I did was make a rhubarb jelly, sans sugar and stabilizer. I knew I would use a bit of this for this meal, but the majority is actually for my overnight oatmeal. It’s very simple, but I wanted to get it in the fridge so it could set up a bit before plating. Take 2 cups of diced rhubarb plus a splash of water and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb falls apart. Cool in the fridge. It’s totally acceptable to add sugar if you’re making this and want a little sweetness to balance the sourness and bitterness of rhubarb. You can also thicken with corn starch, but I find the natural pectin in the rhubarb results in a thick enough “jam or jelly.”
Rhubarb “jelly” for the week!
The next thing that had to be done were the caramelized onions because they take a longggg time if you do it right. There’s definitely an art to them though. Cut 2 onions into 1/8″ slices. I wouldn’t get any thinner than that because then they just burn faster and stick more readily to the bottom of the pan. Heat 1 T butter and 1 T oil over low heat, and then add onions to pan. Oil has a higher smoke point than butter, butter has an awesome flavor, so the combination is a good way to go. Cover and stir occasionally until sufficiently caramelized. Make sure that you keep the pan on low heat– you must exercise patience to get the best result.
Now the turkey-rhubarb-jalepeno meatballs! In a large bowl, add 1 pound ground turkey, 1 c diced rhubarb, 2 diced jalepenos, 1 egg, 4 (hand) smashed shortbread cookies, 1/2 c panko, 1/4 t cinnamon, and 1 t nutmeg. Before mixing and getting meaty hands, create the crumb mixture by blending 6 smashed shortbread cookies, a generous amount of pepper and a pinch of salt in a small bowl or on a plate. With clean hands, blend all the ingredients in the meat mixture until thoroughly combined. Shape into 1″ diameter meatballs by rolling between your hands, and lightly dip into the cookie crumb mixture. Place meatballs on a greased baking sheet, and cook at 375F until golden brown (~40 minutes).
Meatballs prior to going into oven!
Next up, prepare the mashed rutabaga! Mmmmm I love rutabaga. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and large 1″ chunks of rutabaga to boiling water. Cook until rutabaga is tender. Drain water, and mash the rutabaga. And the best part: add caramelized onions to the mashed rutabaga and stir well. Note: if you replicate this recipe, make sure you make more rutabaga. And when you do, make more caramelized onion, too, so the ratio between rutabaga and caramelized onion stays the same.
And the last component of my dish was a simple gravy. Melt 3 T butter in a saucepan over medium heat. With a whisk, add 5 T flour and blend well. It will be lumpy, fear not. Slowly add 2 c of chicken broth, breaking apart the lumps of flour with the whisk. As you heat the mixture, the starch from the flour will gelatinize and create a nice thick gravy. To the thickened gravy, add pepper, salt, a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon, and some red pepper flakes. Boom. Done.
Okay, now assembly. Place mashed rutabagas on plate, and top with meatballs, gravy, rhubarb sauce and orange zest. I decided to serve with broccoli 🙂 Overall, it was very delicious! The dish had a lot of layers of complexity, creating an awesome taste experience.
The end result…
Fredy wasn’t a reliable sous chef today. He’s not quite used to meals that take two hours to prep!
Absent sous chef.

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