How many desserts can one person eat?
In my case the answer is rather scary, so I opted to make both sweet and savory dishes with the farmer's market bounty I hauled back from Charleston.
Rhubarb is a beautiful vegetable (though it's treated like fruit). The tall, elegant stalks with their bright rosy hue stand out among the produce stand's other offerings. Green rhubarb is equally good, but harder to find — it can be used interchangeably with it's more attractive relative. Though beautiful, rhubarb leaves are toxic, so be sure to remove them before cooking. Some cookbook authors advise you to trim the outer layer of rhubarb prior to cooking, but I've found that's only necessary if the stalks are old and fibrous, usually late in the season.
First up on the rhubarb roster: chutney. Chutneys can accompany a wide variety of foods, but I think they have a particular affinity for grilled or roasted pork, so I pulled two Brinkley Farms chops from my freezer, marinated them with garlic and thyme, invited a friend to dinner the following night (a celebration — she's done with nursing school final exams!), and set to work. I'll serve the chutney alongside the grilled meat, saute some garlicky greens, and end the meal with a strawberry-rhubarb galette.
The chutney recipe that follows is based on flavors I like — rhubarb, ginger and orange are a terrific combo — and what was available in my pantry. If I'd had any fresh hot peppers around (jalapeno, serrano) they would have made it into the pot.
Sweet and Spicy Rhubarb Chutney
1 red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons cumin seed
3 teaspoons HRPF (hot red pepper flakes) or to taste
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
zest of one orange
4 cups of rhubarb, diced
6 tablespoons mint, chopped
3 tablespoons of a neutral cooking oil, like canola
Toast the coriander and cumin seed in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally to prevent burning. When the seeds are fragrant (this will take about 4 minutes), remove the pan from the heat and allow the spices to cool. Grind them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder devoted only to spices, or use a mortar and pestle.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sweat the onion, garlic, ginger and red pepper in a medium until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the ground spices, HRPF, cider vinegar, and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add rhubarb and orange zest, and continue cooking until the mixture thickens slightly, about 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Off the heat, add freshly chopped mint.
This chutney will keep, covered and refrigerated, for a week. Leftovers make a great addition to sandwiches, or could be used in a pinch for quick hors d'oeuvres: top table water crackers with thin smear of cream cheese, a spoonful of chutney, and garnish with a mint leaf.
Sweet and Spicy Rhubarb Chutney will also hold in the freezer for about a month.