Can we all agree to stop apologizing for rhubarb? No one apologizes for recipes that call for things like squid, marshmallow-flavored vodka, and green peppers. In fact, some times those things are actually celebrated rather than reviled. So I don’t know why rhubarb, the humble plant that springs to life after a long winter, is the recipient of occasional derision. But it’s time to stop.
I was wandering through a neglected garden in the countryside a few weeks ago, where not much was growing in the spring drizzle, except a few dewy tulips poking through. But right in the thick of things was a resplendent rhubarb plant, which saved the day. In the grand tradition of French “gleaning”, I yanked the stalks out of the ground, brought them home, and made a compote out of them. Free food? What’s not to like about that?
Rhubarb is quite tart and we had a plant in our neighborhood growing up, where we’d dip the raw stalks in sugar and munch on them as kids. Nowadays folks often ask me if they can reduce the sugar in things, including recipes, and you are more than welcome to here. Although just a head’s up that rhubarb does take more than you think, which is why I add some honey. It’s sweeter than sugar but adds a nice background flavor. You can use the smaller or larger amount, or adjust the sugar to your taste by using less than indicated, then adding more at the end.
Don’t like ginger? Try a cinnamon stick or two, some cloves and a few strips of lemon peel, or a few crushed allspice berries in the syrup instead.
About six servings
I’m often asked about reducing sugar in recipes. So here, I’ve used that absolute minimum, which makes for a somewhat tart and tangy compote. But you can taste and add a little more honey after the rhubarb is cooked, to sweeten it to your liking.
In lieu of the ginger, you can opt for a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or some of the spices suggested above. For those avoiding alcohol, replace it with unsweetened apple juice.
- 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) water
- 1 ¼ cups (310 ml) dry or sweet white wine
- 5 slices (15 g) fresh ginger, unpeeled
- ½ cup (100 g) sugar
- 1/3-1/2 cup (100 - 160 g) honey
- 2-pounds (1 kg) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch batons, about 1/2 –inch wide
- 1 pound (450 g) strawberries, hulled and quartered
- optional: 1 teaspoon kirsch, or another eau-de-vie
1. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, heat the water, wine, ginger, sugar, and honey (use the smaller amount if you think you might want it less-sweet – but my guess is you’ll want it all.)
2. When all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is simmering, add the rhubarb and let the rhubarb cook in the simmering syrup until it’s just softened, which may take as little as 5 minutes, depending on the rhubarb. Remove from heat and add the strawberries and the eau-de-vie, if using. When cool, pluck out the ginger slices.