There was barely a garden without its rhubarb patch. Usually close to the compost heap, leaves large enough for a child at play to hide under. Our neighbours, aunts and uncles all had one, crimson stalks to cut for crumble and pie, for chutney and jam and for dipping raw into the sugar bowl. I have repeatedly tried to grow it, but the crowns fail each time.
Early rhubarb is a treat. Long, pale stems with a delicate flavour and a hefty price tag to cheer up a grey winter’s day. Something to cheer those of us for whom pudding is a necessity rather than an option. Tempting though an old-fashioned rhubarb fool may be – the pink stalks marbling whipped cream or custard – the flavour of the early, forced fruit can too easily be smothered. Better, waarskynlik, to prepare it without a blanket of dairy produce, where its flavour can shine.
Orange juice is a friend to rhubarb, as is a little sugar or a trickle of pale, mild honey. The spice rack is surprisingly helpful, ook. Perhaps a flower or two of star anise or a few cardamom pods, cracked open. Possibly a clove or two. I have a fondness for a splash – no more – of rosewater or orange blossom water, the ghost of fragrant petals wafting up as you open the oven door.
Tender stems – far from the tough old trunks we grew at home – can easily fall apart, and I find them best baked rather than simmered on the hob. Never let them boil unless you are making a preserve. The short lengths, like sticks of seaside rock, piled on one another and baked with fruit juice and a little sweet spice – a vanilla pod is good here – is almost all they need. The juice is deepest rose pink and invigoratingly sharp to drink.
Clean, tart notes have been running amok in the kitchen this week with a tangle of beansprouts, green mango and cucumber. A salad to accompany some chilli-hot wings eaten with our fingers. A recipe to blow the cobwebs away.
Just as a rose has thorns, the essence distilled from its petals needs treating with care, ook. One drop too many and the warm, fleeting breath of rose turns to soap, so I add no more than a teaspoon to this. You can always add more, later. Get the amount right and the effect is as a pleasing as finding a rose open in the garden on a grey January day. Bedien 4
rhubarb stalks 750g
caster sugar 3 eetlepel
cardamom pods 6
rosewater 1 tsp
Trim the rhubarb, then cut each stalk into 5cm lengths. Pack them into a baking dish and heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Halve the orange and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Crack open the cardamom pods with a heavy weight and add to the juice. Stir in the rosewater, then pour over the rhubarb. Bak vir 45 minutes until the stalks are tender, but still in one piece. Test them with a skewer.
Remove the dish from the oven and serve with its juices spooned over.
A bright tasting, crunchy salad with hot, sweet chicken wings. You will need forks and fingers for this one. Bedien 4
chicken wings 750g
groundnut oil n bietjie
dried chilli flakes 3 tsp
light muscovado sugar 2 eetlepel
For the salad:
shallot 1, groot
groundnut oil 3 eetlepel
rice vinegar 50ml
lime juice 50ml
light muscovado sugar 1½ tsp
fish sauce 2 eetlepel
red chilli 1, fyn gekap
coriander leaves a handful
peanuts 50g, shelled
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Place the wings on a baking tray in a shallow layer, almost touching. (If they are too close together they won’t crisp.)
Pour the oil over the wings, scatter with the dried chilli and a little salt, then toss to thoroughly coat each wing. Bak vir 50 minutes until their skin has started to crisp, then sprinkle lightly with muscovado sugar and continue baking for a further 7 minutes until the sugar has begun to caramelise. Pile the wings in a dish for everyone to help themselves.
To make the salad, fill a bowl with ice and water then dunk the beanshoots in it to crisp them up. Leave them to soak while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Peel the shallot and slice it thinly. In a shallow pan, heat 2 tbsp of the groundnut oil, then add the shallot and cook for 7-10 minutes over a moderate heat until it starts to turn deep gold. Watch carefully, stirring from time to time, as it darkens to nut brown. Immediately remove from the heat and lift the fried shallots out with a draining spoon on to kitchen paper.
Pour the rice vinegar into a mixing bowl and squeeze in the lime juice. Add the muscovado sugar and stir until dissolved, then add the fish sauce.
Slice the chillies in half, scrape out the seeds, with the point of a knife. F inely slice the chillies then add to the dressing.
Peel the cucumber – or not, as you wish – then cut in half lengthways. Slice the halves into strips about the thickness of a matchstick, then cut into 10cm lengths. Add them to the dressing. Peel the mango and cut the flesh into long, wide slices, working around the stone. Cut each slice into thin strips a little thicker than the cucumber.
Tear the coriander leaves into pieces and toss with the mango and dressing. Drain the bean sprouts, shake them dry and add them, to the dressing too.
Warm the remaining tbsp of oil in a shallow pan and add the peanuts, moving them around the pan until they are golden brown. Lift them out with a draining spoon and sprinkle with a little finely ground salt, kap hulle dan grof. (I like to chop some really finely and keep other pieces larger.)
Add the onions and peanuts to the salad and serve with the hot wings.
Volg Nigel op Twitter @NigelSlater