Whenever I pick up a bundle of pretty pink rhubarb sticks from the market, I tend to go to my trusty, default rhubarb recipes of rhubarb and apple crumble or a sweetened compote to stir into creamy yoghurt. Call me a rebel, but with my latest bundle I thought it was time to leave such delicate English classics behind and – well – pimp up my rhubarb with some chilli and spice.
I’d just got to the end of a big, unctuous jar of sweet chilli relish that had found it’s way from my mother-in–law in India via relatives travelling back to the UK. It’s thick and heavy and intensely spicy and sweet at the same time (I dread to think how much sugar went into it – best not to ask). I’ve been happily slapping it on the side of everything for months – scrambled eggs in the morning, with goat’s cheese and biscuits, with some smoked mackerel and cucumber (my favourite combination). Alas, sadly all good things must come to an end, and while I was nearing the bottom of the jar, I realised I’d better find a replacement – and fast.
Apparently rhubarb and chilli as a combination is all the rage – or at least that’s what my Google search suggested. There are all sorts of recipes online – some with lots of spice, some with loads of sugar, thus tipping it from the confines of a relish into sweet, sticky jam.
This is my recipe version, which is quite delicately spiced, with a sweet and sour note. Not at all like my mother-in-law’s relish, but something that would quite happily go with all the types of food I’ve mentioned above.
In fact, I think it would also be great served on the side of some roast duck, as an alternative to the plum and star anise sauce I usually do.
This recipe is really just a guide – you can go much heavier on the spice, or the fresh ginger, or the chilli or the sugar. Next time I make it, I think I’ll add in some dates. These quantities make enough to fill a small kilner jar, and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
300-400g rhubarb, roughly cut into inch-long pieces
One large red onion
One large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tsp of fresh, grated ginger
2 cloves of crushed garlic
3-4 small green chillies, chopped
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cinammon
¼ tsp turmeric
4 tsp muscovado sugar (you could use white sugar)
2 tbsp white or red wine vinegar
Juice of a quarter lemon
Salt (to season)
Olive oil (for frying)
In a pan, fry the onion, garlic and ginger in a little olive oil until the onion softens (but before it starts to brown). Add the mustard seeds, chillies and chilli flakes, coriander, cinammon, and turmeric and cook for a few minutes.
Next add the chopped rhubarb and apple, sugar and vinegar. Add a small amount of water, semi cover the pan and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring often.
The rhubarb will gradually turn into a mushy, stringy consistency and the apples will soften. You could cook the mixture longer until the apple also turns mushy, but I prefer to leave them as soft apple pieces for a different layer of texture.
When the mixture is cooked, add salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon and leave to cool. Transfer to a clean kilner jar (use boiling water to wash out) and store in the fridge.