Isn’t it just wonderful when fruits and vegetables are in season and available in the grocers shops, or in our own vegetable patches, for a short, exciting period? There is nothing more satisfying to me than cooking with seasonal produce. It must be the natural feeling of being at one with Mother Nature, and the mystery surrounding her ability to keep on topping up her abundant resources.
Rhubarb is in season now. This beautiful vegetable, more often than not cooked as a fruit in cakes, crumbles and tarts, delights in every way. Its perfect pink stalks sit in aesthetic union with its dark, earthy green leaves. The leaves are not edible, but how pretty they are to look at. The stalks, at once bitter, sour and astringent, require some kind of sweetener in order to balance the sour quality. This transforms them to the most satisfying dessert for those who don’t like the overly sweet, indulgent type.
Compote, a medieval European dessert made with fruit, sugar and spices (we’re treating rhubarb as a fruit here) is my favourite way of using rhubarb. There are numerous recipes for it, but it’s best to pick one you like the sound of, and improvise a little, so the result is most suited to your taste.
Try this one, which is simple, with my own Ayurvedic twist. Jaggery is unprocessed, non -refined, boiled and solidified sugar cane juice. It contains numerous micronutrients and has been used in Ayurveda, as well as Indian cuisine, for thousands of years. Jaggery gives a wonderful caramel/fudge -like taste to desserts.
Serve your compote with some homemade shortbread, or with a little custard, or even on its own. You can make a crumble with it, or indeed a cake, … it’s up to you.
Pre-heat the oven to 140c/gas 1
450g fresh rhubarb stalks, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
90g grated jaggery or dark muscovado sugar
grated zest and juice of an orange
A tsp ground ginger
3 tbsp water
Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat the rhubarb thoroughly with the flavourings. Lay the rhubarb on a baking tray and bake for around half an hour until soft but intact.
You can eat it warm or cold, store it in the fridge in a kilner jar or similar, for up to a week. It also freezes well.