This Sharbat, made as a bit of an afterthought for a Persian class this week (when the weather forecast predicted that most people would probably not opt for tea or coffee as a welcome drink) has proved to be a surprising hit - a bit of a scene stealer in fact when it only came on as a bit part player.
Before I go any further, I am going to to declare a slight prejudice; I have never much liked diluted, sugared, fruit drinks. In my earliest experience of them, as a mixed infant at Hurst Park County Primary, the squash being diluted (with considerably more water:squash ratio than would have been recommended) was cheap and lurid, and the resulting beverage, served from rainbow hued (but still hideously unattractive) aluminium jugs, left a nasty taste in the mouth (am I showing my age with this confessional?). Anyhow, although this distaste has been tempered with adult experience, the squashes of my youth having been outdistanced somewhat by the slightly more sophisticated cordials of my adulthood, it has never entirely gone away.
While I can now safely say that I genuinely enjoy the occasional elderflower pressé (to give it a fully posh name), for example, I can’t say that I wonder why I ever drink anything else - or to put it another way, slightly sweet summer ‘refreshers’, for want of a better word, don’t typically feature on my 'A’ list, ever. This week, however, a friend who enjoys the occasional tipple and is not inclined to gush as a general rule, remarked that this Sharbat may be the thing that enables her to give up thoughts of alcohol as she contemplates relief (if not reward) in the form of something tall and cool to drink as she sits on her hot commuter carriage after a long day’s work, and yet another declared it “much better than elderflower”.
So, breaking with my (hardly entrenched) habit here of not writing recipes, I have written up this one for whoever wants it. It is especially pretty (for those of you who care about aesthetics) when served with dried rose petals added in as decoration; they plump up and just look better and better the longer that they sit there. For further decorative effect, if you happen to be entertaining and are planning to mix up a jug full, you can always use a spare rhubarb stalk as a kind of swizzle stick to stir it up with (and you can still cook with it afterwards).
For the record, while this sharbat is well known amongst the Persian population, this particular recipe is based on ingredients and proportions given by Greg Malouf in his beautiful travelogue and coffee-table cook book: Saraband.
summer rhubarb getting to know some sugar
(rhubarb & rose sharbat)
juice of 1 lime;
2 tablespoons rose water;
a few dried rose-petals, to serve (optional)
- wash, trim and roughly chop the rhubarb.
- put in a saucepan with the sugar, toss together and leave to get to know each other for an hour or so.
- add the water and stir over a very gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- raise the heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat again and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes
- strain and reserve the syrupy liquid from the rhubarb and put back in the pan; discard the rhubarb.
- add the juice of the lime to the syrup and bring back to a boil, lower the heat a little and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes until the syrup has thickened slightly.
- allow to cool, stir in the rose water and store in a sterilised bottle or container in the fridge.
- to serve, dilute with water or soda water, add dried rose-petals for decoration and lots of ice.
fierce, sharbat guarding chickens (optional)
I have to say, it has proved a bit of a revelation. This unlikely split personality of a fruit/vegetable, otherwise so unappealing as far as I am concerned after the early, truly beautiful, fully pink, forced stems are done, is fantastic in this form. Its bitter, green tinged stalks help create a delicate, pink hued, admittedly slightly girly summer drink that is really very palatable - who knew? But, if you think it could be better still without being too strictly 'Persian’ (to use that name even more euphemistically than I already have been), you could always add a neat shot to the bottom of a chilled flute and top it with a few more pétillant bubbles, if you get my drift, and serve as an apéritif. One way or another, I hope that you enjoy it as much as it turns out I do.
“Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I leaned, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmured - "While you live,
Drink! - for, once dead, you never shall return.”“
~ Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam