Fresh Sheet…Rhubarb

Rhubarb is not the most glamourous of fruits; it doesn’t have the sensual fragrance of ripe strawberries or the succulent flesh of a summer peach. Botanically-speaking it is a vegetable; it looks like Swiss chard and is so powerfully astringent that most people wouldn’t dare to eat it raw, even with a dunk into the sugar bowl. But if you haven’t welcomed rhubarb into your culinary repertoire, you are denying yourself the mysterious and comforting flavours that rhubarb delivers with just a touch of preparation.

With origins in ancient China, rhubarb is at home with exotic spices like cinnamon, cloves and cardamon. Rhubarb also boasts a host of beneficial nutrients. High in fibre and vitamin C, one cup of cooked rhubarb also has over 350mg of calcium and lutein and zeaxanthin for healthy eyes. Rhubarb makes a delicious filling for pies, crumbles and tarts; a sweet-tart addition to muffins and a delish compote, spooned over yogurt and oatmeal or just eaten on its own!

Vegan Panna Cotta with Cardamon-Scented Rhubarb Compote
This recipe was inspired by the panna cotta on offer at one of my favourite neighbourhood spots, Cafeteria. As I try to incorporate more vegan options into my diet, Heather’s creative genius devised this delectable coconut option.

Vegan Panna Cotta
Makes 6 servings.

1 tsp agar agar powder
3/4 cup soy, rice or coconut beverage (plain or vanilla flavoured)
1 can (400mL) coconut milk
3 tbsp organic sugar
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

In a saucepan, stir agar into soy, rice or coconut beverage. Add coconut milk and sugar. Add vanilla extract or vanilla bean by slicing the vanilla bean lengthwise and using the back of a knife to scrap out the seeds. Add the seeds and vanilla bean pod to the pot. Stir to mix well.
Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 full minute, stirring frequently. Remove from stovetop and discard the vanilla bean pod. Divide mixture into 6 ramekins, glasses or decorative cups. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set. 

Panna cotta can be served in several beautiful ways. To serve on a plate, gently run a knife around the edge of the ramekins and gently place upside down on a plate. Shake gently to unmold the panna cotta. Top with rhubarb compote. You can also leave the panna cotta in decorative cups or glasses and top with rhubarb compote. This looks particularly impressive in translucent glasses. This coconut panna cotta is also delicious served with fresh mango, toasted coconut or fresh lime zest.



Rhubarb Compote
4-6 stalks of local rhubarb
1 cup water
1/2 cup sweetener of choice (I like to use organic sugar)
1/2 tsp ground cardomom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Coarsely chop rhubarb stalks into 1 inch pieces. You want about 4 cups of chopped rhubarb. Place in a medium saucepan and add water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Stir in cardomom and cinnamon. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until rhubarb is soft and flavours are well blended. Adjust spices and sugar to suit your tastebuds. I like my rhubarb compote slightly tart, so feel free to add more sugar if desired.
Let cool to room temperature to serve with coconut vegan panna cotta or refrigerate and use within a week. You can also freeze rhubarb compote for enjoyment all year long. Enjoy rhubarb compote stirred into yogurt, oatmeal or ice cream or on its own!


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