Who are you ugly-looking, cardoon-like stalk hanging out in my farmers’ market? Why are you catching my eye now? Are you a fruit? A vegetable? What can I do with you? You look absolutely flavorless from here! Why why why would I want to take you home?
Well, friends, I am here to tell you how this homely VEGETABLE – yes, not a fruit – can change your life. Like right this very minute. Only 5 minutes of chopping and 7 minutes of stirring and you have the hottest condiment of the season – a zesty gingery dried cherry and lime rhubarb chutney flavor-bomb.
Despite being a vegetable which grows from rhizomes (think ginger), rhubarb is most often treated like a fruit – jams, pies, cobblers, and crisps. That’s because its super tart acidity begs for the addition of something sweet. The large triangular leaves look a bit like the Caribbean vegetable callaloo or even taro. However they are generally considered poisonous. You won’t see them at the market (that would be a mean farmer), but you will see them if you grow your own. Best to steer clear. They are only a problem if ingested so don’t worry about harvest.
And, you might be wondering about the wide range of color. Sometimes it’s kind of baby diarrhea green, and sometimes its ruby red. In general, the red comes out first in the season and is from a hot-house, and the green is more likely to be field grown showing up later in the season. But color also varies by variety. There are dozens of varietals with flashy names ranging from Egyptian Queen to Prince Albert. The variety German Wine has pink speckling on green stalks, while Fraulein Sharfer Torte has very fat, red stalks. The taste will not vary much, but the appearance of the end product depends on produce selected. Choose stalks that are firm and crisp. Since I got a color combo when purchasing recently, I divided the pieces, while chopping, by color. I cooked the greener pieces down first to get the creamy base and then added the redder pieces in later to add a bit of texture and the bright color. Whether or not you separate by color will not impact taste, just the aesthetics.
One way to heighten and set the color of any red or blue fruit (or vegetable) is to add acid. Often chutneys call for vinegar, and as I was perusing my cabinet for the perfect choice, I saw the two limes I had purchased just for this purpose and forgotten about. Genius! It was a maiden voyage using lime in chutney prep and oh-so-delicious. I served this gingery rhubarb chutney on fresh goat cheese the other day and the first cry from the crowd was “limey deliciousness!” It is a match made in heaven.
Making Rhubarb Chutney
I also chose dried cherries to add both to the redness of the finished dish and to add a pop of rich dark fruit. Dried fruit in chutney is classic, but golden raisins wouldn’t have done either of the twin duties that dried cherries took on. Chutneys are all about balancing tart and sweet and contrasting textures, often with a touch of heat. This rhubarb chutney recipe combines tart rhubarb with sweet dried cherries and balances the perkiness of lime juice and zest with sugar. Crystallized ginger adds both heat and texture. And adding the chopped rhubarb in two stages further adds contrasts in texture. Because of all the acidity in the dish, be sure to store in a non-reactive (glass) airtight dish.
If you find yourself with an abundance of rhubarb stalks, trim and chop the stalks and spread out in a single layer and freeze. Once the pieces are frozen, you can place them in a Ziploc bag and store more compactly. This will give you an off-season supply to make fresh rhubarb chutney to go with your Christmas goose or Easter ham. I love to top fresh cheeses like goat or fresh ricotta with this chutney or serve with grilled or roast meats like pork, chicken or game. Enjoy!Print
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