This was meant to be a spring a post but, as you’ll see, the availability of the ingredients and the simplicity of the techniques involved make this dessert a breeze to whip up the year round. Just make sure you read the notes below the recipe.
Back in early March, Florida’s strawberry season was just rolling in. At Natural Wonders u-pick farm, the first berries were firm and seedy, a flavorful blend of sweet and tart. Not the kind of berry you enjoy right off the plant. Or out of a colander, rinsed and dried. Straight up, in other words—away with euphemisms.
But I kept on picking, determined to make them work. The morning was beautiful: it was warm and sunny, with a soft breeze that picked up every so often to stir up the plants and sent their tantalizing aromas my way. I knew strawberries weren’t the only forage I was going to leave with that morning though they were the focus of my trip.
As I picked berries, I was pondering their fate. Nicole was in school until early afternoon; however, I didn’t have time for anything too fancy because Mom and I had one more room to paint. We were in a hurry to get the house ready for rent before Mom had to leave for Europe in a couple of days to visit with my youngest sister who was due in early April, and before we were headed to Reno, NV.
So I decided on fruit crisp, a light and comforting dessert that was simple and quick to make. I remembered I had a few stalks of fresh rosy rhubarb in the fridge and thought it’d pair up perfectly with strawberries. All I had to do was come up with a crisp topping.
Upon coming home, though, I realized I was out of brown rice flour. There was no way I was driving to Whole Foods and making an afternoon out of this easy dessert.
So I hauled out my grain mill and had freshly ground brown rice flour in minutes. I got so excited I ground some millet and steel cut oats and jasmine rice and buckwheat groats. I could’ve kept on grinding since my pantry is normally well-stocked with a variety of grains. It’s a Russian thing, I guess, since I grew up on kashas: farina, oats, buckwheat, millet, wheat, barley, rice.
Kasha is a meal prepared using any grain as the main ingredient. It is one of the basic elements of Russian food, second in importance to only bread. It can be sweet or savory, served at breakfast, as a side dish or even as a meal in itself.
I abhorred kashas when in kindergarten, picked through them when in school, and embraced them as a mom. Many grains used to cook kasha are rich in protein, dietary fiber, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
To make a long story short, I literally had to pull myself away from the mill when Mom showed up in the kitchen, tiny specks of white paint on her clothes and face, and told me she needed me on a step stool reaching for the ceiling.
I quickly whipped up a topping of a mixture of brown rice, millet, and oat flours, demerara sugar, and butter. I then evenly spread it over the fruit that had been macerating in individual ramekins, placed the ramekins on a baking sheet, and carefully guided them into the oven.
In about 30 minutes, we were taking a break from work, savoring this spring sweet treat with the stark strawberry flavor and the goodness of whole grains in every bite.
So so good.
Recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisps, adapted from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook
1. 1 pound (450 g) fresh strawberries hulled and halved; quarter larger berries
2. 1 pound (450 g) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch lengths
3. ½ cup (120 g) natural cane sugar
4. grated rind and juice of 1 orange
For the Crisp Topping:
1. ¾ cup (150 g) coarsely ground brown rice flour
2. ½ cup (120 g) coarsely ground gluten-free steel cut oats
3. ½ cup (120 g) coarsely ground millet flour
4. ½ cup (120 g) demerara or other raw sugar
5. 1/3 cup (67 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
6. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine strawberries, rhubarb pieces, sugar, orange rind and juice; toss gently.
2. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish or 6 10-ounce ramekins and set aside.
3. To make the crisp topping, combine flours in a medium bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Stir in the sugar and ginger. Spread evenly over the fruit and press down lightly using a fork.
4. Place the dish or the ramekins on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the fruit bubbles over.
5. Serve with yogurt, ice cream or custard.
1. You can use 1 3/4 cups all-purpose white or whole-wheat flour or a combination of both in place of the gluten-free ones I used.
2. If you don’t have a grain mill, you can use store-bought versions of these flours. Just use sugar with coarse crystals for crunch.
3. If you have a grain mill, grind your brown rice at the lowest grind setting; it will still have a coarser texture than commercially ground flour. Although for millet and steel cut oats, use the setting one notch below the finest.
4. Toasting millet in a heavy, dry skillet before grinding really brings out this very small grain’s unique flavor.