Come spring, can’t wait to get my hands on the likes of favas, morels, ramps, asparagus, strawberries, and green peas…some of life’s simple pleasures. Freshly shucked green peas, which bear no resemblance to their mushy, canned counterparts, are simply divine when cooked in a little butter. Notwithstanding, when I look beyond these spring favorites, open my eyes to what’s already right in front of me, I see spring’s early arrivals a la flowering rabe. You may be more familiar with broccoli rabe (aka rapini), but you can also find flowering turnips, kale, Chinese broccoli, garlic mustard, and collard greens this time of year.
Rabe (or raab) are the flowering tops of the Brassica family (i.e., cabbage family); rabe is derived from rapa, which means “turnip” in Italian. The tiny yellow (and white) blossoms show up in early-spring. The flowers, leaves, and stems are edible. This time of year, the stems are slender and tender, the flowers sweet. If you’ve tried broccoli rabe, you know it can be a bit bitter; on the contrary, these other flowering greens are more mild.
What better way to utilize these flowering greens than in a simple, quick stir-fry. All you need is a hot wok, and you will have yourself a tasty, seasonal meal in a matter of minutes — this is the way fast food should be. I used ground lamb for this stir-fry. It has a stronger, earthier (some say ‘gamey’) flavor compared to ground beef and mingles nicely with the bold Asian flavors (fish sauce, Thai basil and Thai chiles). I’ve made this with other types of ground meat (including bison), and I find that the strong lamb flavors work best.
A beautiful spring bowl of goodness in a matter of minutes…
I topped with some chopped Marcona almonds for crunch, along with a big handful of Thai basil, and finished with a squeeze of lime, all served over brown rice…
Lamb and Flowering Rabe Stir-Fry
Inspired by Nigel Slater’s Tender
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of one lime plus few wedges of lime for serving
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 thin stalks green garlic, green onions or even baby leeks
1-2 red Thai chiles, more or less depending on desired heat level, thinly sliced
1 pound ground lamb
1 large bunch (~12-14 ounces) flowering [turnip, kale, collard, mustard, and/or broccoli] rabe, roughly chopped
Large handful of [Thai] basil, roughly chopped (substitute Italian basil, if Thai is not available)
Chopped cashews, peanuts, or Marcona almonds for garnish
Serve with (brown) rice
Combine the fish sauce, lime, and honey in a small bowl and whisk until well incorporated, set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. When smoking hot, add the green garlic and chiles and saute a minute or two until the green garlic is just wilted. Add the lamb and saute a few more minutes until nicely browned. Add the flowering rabe and continue sauteing a few more minutes until tender. Pour in the reserved fish sauce-lime mixture. Toss to combine. Add a large handful of basil.
Top with some chopped nuts. Serve with brown rice and a few wedges of lime on the side.