Rhubarb is a glorious vegetable, but the tart flavor that makes rhubarb so wonderful is exactly what can tend to scare people off. Blame that on our culture of overly sweetened foods. So what do we do? We douse that rhubarb in sugar and mix it in with all kinds of other sweet fruits, like strawberries.
Now, I’m not here to bring down the strawberry rhubarb combination (it is delicious), but I would like to advocate for eating rhubarb on its own. Let the rhubarb speak for itself.
A wonderful way to do just that is to make compote.
I always have good intentions to make a big batch of rhubarb compote and then just have some on hand to spoon into yogurt or to spread on a piece of sourdough bread (better than jam!) but that of course never happens. What does happen is this: “damn, I should have made some rhubarb compote to go with this… ok, I’ll make the quick version.”
The quick version is the no-recipe version, and by that I mean I don’t concern myself with measuring ingredients. The essential is to cook down some rhubarb stalks (the poisonous leaves removed of course!) with a little bit of sweetener.
In my kitchen, that looks something like this: taking however many stalks of rhubarb I have on hand – usually one or two – chopping them up, placing in a saucepan, adding a couple of tablespoons of honey, adding some type of herb, spice or citrus zest, then cooking on medium heat until it’s all cooked down and “compotey.” (Note that you can always add a little bit of water if need be) This process happens in under 10 minutes. It’s not exact – in my opinion, most good recipes never are – but it makes for compote in a pinch, and isn’t that what we’re after here?
If you want the more elaborate rhubarb compote recipe, there’s one from Emily Dilling in the spring issue of Comestible. It involves letting chopped rhubarb and sugar (or honey if you prefer) sit for awhile before cooking it, to really help bring out the flavor. But I never remember to do that on time, hence my more “relaxed” recipe. Otherwise known as Hey Let’s Whip Up Some Rhubarb Compote Right Now Recipe.
I turned it into a papercut for easy reference:
It’s also easy to experiment with various herbs and spices in compote. Here are a few personal favorites that I like to add in while I am cooking down the compote:
Meyer lemon zest
There are many more things that you could add in, but the goal is to pick something that is going to help to accentuate the taste of the rhubarb. Remember, the point here is to let the rhubarb shine, not douse its lovely, tart flavor.
What should you do with it? Eat it directly from the saucepan you cooked it in. Add it to yogurt in the morning. Add it to ice cream in the evening. Use instead of jam. Use it in a pie. Mix into a cocktail. Mix into a smoothie. Eat with chocolate. Eat on oatmeal. As you can see, it’s a versatile dish.
Now, go find a garden to stomp around in, pick some rhubarb and take it back to the kitchen. You have compote cooking to do.
Papercut illustration by Anna Brones
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