I think of rhubarb as a bridge between winter and summer in a world of fruits. Sold in abundance in Munich stores, lean and rose-hued stalks fill the gap left by slowly deteriorating apples and imported tropical fruits in absence of local berries and stone fruit which are not due for another couple of months. Fresh rhubarb is akin to a beautiful orchid – you like the idea of buying one without really knowing what to do with it once you bring it home. Personally, I like the idea of walking through the neighborhood with a bunch of rhubarb peeking out of my grocery bag. After living for many years in a world filled with prepackaged meals where grocery carts are stocked mostly with plastic and cartoon boxes, I feel proud to display my loyalty to fresh produce anywhere I go. So anything large and colorful (celery stalks, romaine lettuce, carrots with tops, whole watermelon) that can be paraded through the streets goes into my bag.
Back to rhubarb. Although incredibly sour and pretty much inedible in raw form, its easily broken down into soft, juicy concoction only after 15 minutes of cooking. Although I generally don’t use sugar, it’s a must for this tart plant as are various spices (cinnamon, ginger and vanilla work best). Simplest form of rhubarb recipe is as follows: wash and chop fresh, unblemished stalks, add to the sauce pan, sprinkle with a bit of sugar and spices, splash with orange or lemon juice, and cook on low heat until pan contents resemble thick preserves. Eat with plain yogurt and muesli for breakfast, or, with whipped cream or ice cream as an after-dinner treat.
But the best time for rhubarb comes at the end of spring, when early strawberries make an appearance, for its a match made in food heaven. Strawberries’ aroma and naturally sweet flesh complements fibrous and tart rhubarb in flavor, texture and colour. Needless to say that you need a lot less sugar compared to cooking rhubarb alone. I typically keep rhubarb:straweberry ratio 3:2 so that the end result is more tart than it is sweet but you should definitely experiment and discover what you like.
The recipe below comes from my early days of cooking with rhubarb when I didn’t know what to do with it so I cooked the same thing over and over again. Despite having learned other ways of using rhubarb (raw rhubarb-mango-chile salsa!), I still continue to make this recipe several times throughout the spring as I came to appreciate its simplicity and rustic look. This dessert is very easy and quick to prepare (only one dirty bowl to wash!) and is flexible with ingredient list (no flour, milk, eggs, yeast, or baking soda needed). As long as you have rhubarb and strawberries, everything else is optional (but delicious) topping.
Rustic Rhubarb-Strawberry Crumble
– 6-8 stalks rhubarb (depends on thickness)
– 2-3 handfuls fresh strawberries
– 1/2 cup almonds
– 1/2 cup oats
– 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
– 3 tsp coconut sugar
– 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 2 tbsp almond oil (or melted ghee or coconut oil)
– pinch of cinnamon, ginger, and salt
– splash of vanilla extract
– heavy cream (for whipping) to serve
Preheat oven to 175C / 350F and prepare a large baking dish. Wash and chop in small pieces rhubarb and strawberries, add to the baking dish, sprinkle with spices, sugar, vanila and lemon juice. Mix carefully and thoroughly with large spoon. In a food processor, first pulse almond (roughly, so that large chunks remain), then add oats and pulse couple more times. Add oil, coconut and salt and pulse two more times. Distribute oat-nut mixture on top of fruit covering most of the surface. Bake 45 minutes (watch carefully last 10 minutes of baking and remove crumble earlier if you see the top is starting to get burned). Wait until crumble cools down a bit before serving with freshly whipped cream.