I love rhubarb, always have. My grandmother has a prodigious rhubarb patch in her garden, and it was her excellent strawberry-rhubarb pie that made me love the sour stalks. Every spring I pounce as soon as I see it at the greenmarket, and keep buying it all season for cakes, compotes, chutneys, and other delights not brought to you by the letter C.
Last week I bought some rhubarb at the Union Square Greenmarket, thin stalks still mostly green. I wanted to cook it very simply to spoon over my morning yogurt, but I also wanted to make some spicy rhubarb chutney to stir into rice or use as a glaze for roasted meats and vegetables.
I also didn’t want to stir a pot of compote or a pot of chutney for hours, and I didn’t want to choose between the two recipes. I want everything, basically. So I employed my favorite baking dish, the pretty milk glass divided oval (also a preference I attribute to my grandmother), to cook a sweet compote and a spicy chutney at the same time. The compote is simple and delicate, perfect for breakfast (though I may blend it and make it into a sorbet), and the chutney is sour, spicy, sweet, and savory, all at once, with the flavors parading across the palate in that order. There’s no thickening starch in either side of this rhubarb dish because I like rhubarb compote to be just chunks in pink syrup, and the raisins and dry spices are thirsty enough to absorb most of the liquid in the chutney. And I didn’t add any sugar to the chutney because I don’t like eating a condiment that’s essentially a salty jam. Besides, the raisins provide little pops of sweetness that perfectly complement the sourness and spices. The sichuan peppercorns linger after a bite of the chutney, cooling the tongue, encouraging another bite.
Tonight I’m baking chutney-smothered tilapia on top of fava beans for a dinner to remind me it’s finally spring, despite the rain and chill. I can hardly wait – it’s in the oven right now. If only the lovely Nana weren’t 100 miles away, I could have an unlimited supply of garden-fresh rhubarb and spirited dinner conversation.
Rhubarb Two Ways
- 1 1/4 pounds rhubarb, washed, trimmed, divided between baking dish sections (or two baking dishes)
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 2 tsp fresh ginger, microplane-grated
- 1 clove garlic, microplane-grated
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns, ground
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 Tbs oil
- 1/4 large onion, diced
- 4 tsp cider vinegar
- 2 Tbs vanilla sugar
Preaheat oven to 350. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch pieces, divide between two sections of one dish or two dishes. If you don’t have 2-section baking dish, start cruising thrift shops for a nice vintage one, like I did.
Sprinkle one half with raisins, salt, and spices. Heat olive oil in small skillet, add onion and cook until lightly browned. Spread over rhubarb and spices. Pour vinegar over rhubarb.
Sprinkle vanilla sugar over the other half of the rhubarb (or you can increase the sugar to 1/4 cup if you like it really sweet). Cover with foil, bake 30 minutes or until rhubarb is tender. Let cool, then stir the chutney to combine all the spices.