This stunningly coloured salad showcases late winter/early spring vegetables and with minimal effort looks absolutely beautiful on the plate. Although raw rhubarb may not instantly appeal, I can assure you its sharp, sour flavour is gently softened by the liquoice notes of the fennel and the lightly sweetened lemon-honey dressing, which all work together in subtle, sweet-tart harmony.
I initially made this salad as an experiment with rhubarb as a savoury vegetable and was somewhat doubtful about the combination, but it really did work. And with a veritable riot of fresh vegetables and shades of luminous pink, it will make a bright, healthy, joyful splash on your dinner table.
I really, really, love sour so the idea of rhubarb had always appealed, but I have been reluctant to eat it adulterated with tons of sugar as it always is in desserts. Also, I am not the biggest fan of cooked, stewed fruit, which is how rhubarb is typically served in the UK, so my thoughts turned instead to a raw, savoury recipe. I knew I had a pretty high tolerance for sour (see my recipe for super-sour lemon juice here) – surely there was an appropriate rhubarb recipe out there for me?
A quick flick through the internet revealed this lemon-pickled rhubarb recipe on The Guardian newspaper’s website, where I got the principle flavours for this dish. I have a real soft spot for lemon-pickles (see my recipe for lemon-pickled red onions here). The bright, zingy acid juice helps soften both the texture and the flavour of strongly flavoured vegetables, and all this achieved in about ten minutes and with no preserving equipment.
In The Guardian’s recipe it was used as a garnish for mackerel, but I think its fabulous colours and textures deserve individual attention, so I have adapted it into a sunny salad.
Shaving all the vegetables as thinly as possible will produce the best texture in this salad, allowing the lemon juice to penetrate and soften the vegetables quickly and providing an all round better eating experience. When shaved, the salad is crunchy, but not too ‘raw’ tasting – and definitely without any overly tough chunks to chew.
I would recommend using a mandoline for this, but mine is packed away somewhere, so all I had available was my parents old peeler and a knife. They worked absolutely fine, if a tiny bit more arduous.
This salad is a plateful of life-affirming health. Although there is a little sweetener to take the edge off the sour ingredients (substitute another sweetener such as agave for the honey to make it vegan), the rest of the plate is filled with fresh, raw, antioxidant-rich vegetables dressed in the nutritional powerhouse that is lemon (read more about it’s astonishing disease-preventing attributes here).
There is a lot of pink in this recipe. The lemon juice quickly encourages the radishes and rhubarb to release some of their beautiful colour, dying the lemon dressing a vivid rose to match the trim on the cut vegetables.
If your radishes come with the leaves still attached you can use them to flesh out this salad or to add a delicate garnish if you decide to plate it as pictured for a fancy dinner party dish. In fact any green you add, for example other mild lettuces, will offer a superb colour contrast to the glorious pinks. The colours and unusual combination definitely give this dish major wow factor.
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 teaspoons honey or agave
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered & tough core removed
- 200g rhubarb
- 200g radishes
- freshly ground black pepper
- radish leaves to garnish or fill out the salad
- Mix the lemon juice with the honey and stir until dissolved.
- Using a mandoline, peeler or your excellent knife skills, slice the fennel, rhubarb and radishes as thinly as possible. Toss the vegetables immediately in the dressing - this will stop the vegetables discolouring. Leave for 10-15 minutes to give the dressing time to pickle the salad slightly and soften the vegetables' raw texture.
- This salad will hold for an hour or so, but the lemon juice will continue to work, softening the vegetables further and leeching even more pink into the dressing.