Notes from the Rainforest Foods kitchen – seasonal rhubarb meringue with Chia seeds
A seasonal twist on the fruit meringue, given a helping hand with Rainforest Foods Chia seeds
One of the earliest fruits available in the UK is rhubarb, known to science as the genus Rheum in the family Polygonaceae. It is a welcome arrival in the kitchen, because it heralds the arrival of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables. The fibrous stems of the plant are delicious when stewed and sweetened, usually with a small addition of bicarbonate of soda. The alkaline influence of this counters the rather acidic nature of rhubarb.
The classic British rhubarb dessert is rhubarb crumble, but after a winter of heavy crumbles we decided to turn our first crop to lighter use, in a meringue pie. This is a fantastic dessert as it combines a crisp, weighty pastry with a fantastically light topping, and a dash of rhubarb makes a great filling.
The only downside to rhubarb is its high water content. If the liquid is not strained off to leave as dry a pulp as possible it makes for a soggy pastry and a meringue that rapidly loses its crispness. We did our best to reduce the moisture of our filling, but it was still rather wet. Something to soak the excess up was required. We could have used a cornflour paste to create the rhubarb version of a lemon meringe filling, but this is the Rainforest Foods kitchen. There had to be a Superfood solution, which would hopefully increase the nutritional content of our dessert into the bargain. Rhubarb, by the way, is a good Magnesium source, and also gives us dietary fibre, vitamins C and K, calcium, potassium and manganese.
Chia seeds are pretty helpful on the nutrition front. It offers large quantities of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, in a healthy ratio. It also provides protein, vitamins A, B1, 2, 3, 6, and 8, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. From the standpoint of our pie filling requirement though, the property we hoped to employ here was Chia’s tendency towards mucilage. The outer part of the seed absorbs moisture readily, turning what is a tiny, crisp seed into a large, gelatinous one. Our rhubarb would get along nicely with it.
This experiment worked well. Stewed rhubarb, with much of its water drained out, mixes well with Chia seeds to create a tasty, slightly gelatinous pie filling that is much more nutritious and interesting than a cornflour-thickened mixture. This is an excellent Rainforest Foods update of a fine spring dessert.
Rainforest Foods rhubarb and Chia seed meringue
For the pastry
110g plain flour, or half and half plain and wholemeal flour, 50g unsalted butter, 1 egg, grated rind of an orange
For the topping
4 egg whites, 175 caster sugar
For the filling
6 rhubarb stems, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 dessert spoon honey, 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2cm cube of root ginger, finely chopped, 1 tbsp Rainforest Foods Chia seeds
Cut the rhubarb stems into 2cm lengths and stew slowly in a covered pan, with the sugar, honey and chopped ginger.
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C (gas mark 3).
Grease a pie dish. Sift the flour into a large bowl. With your fingertips, rub in the butter until it disappears. Add the grated orange rind. Break the egg into the middle and beat lightly. Combine the egg and flour/butter mixture to make a pastry dough.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle. Lift it on the rolling pin and drape it over the dish. Work it into the base and sides, then run the rolling pin over the rim to remove any excess. Place some baking parchment weighed down with dried beans in the base, then bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
Drain the stewed rhubarb through a sieve to remove as much of the water as possible. Put the pulp into a bowl and stir in the Chia seeds. Remove the base from the oven, remove the beans and parchment.
Whisk the egg whites. This is easier done in a food mixer as it takes a few minutes. Gradually add the sugar. When the whites are stiff, they are ready.
Pour the filling into the pastry base. Spoon the egg white mixture on top. Bake slowly for 20-25 minutes, until the top is fairly crisp. Turn off the oven and leave the pie to cool slowly inside. Serve when fairly cool, or cold.