Wondering what to do with those red stalks of rhubarb that you’re seeing in your grocery store or farmer’s market? Or at least wondering what they are good for besides strawberry rhubarb pie? Strawberry rhubarb pie is great, but there is so much more to rhubarb!
I’ve been figuring out how I want to do these focus posts where I talk about a more unusual ingredient and give a little bit of history and some ideas on how to cook it. (Check out my new ingredient spotlight collection for all my spotlight posts!) Since my last one, which was a while ago, I’ve decided to make this a monthly feature. Each month I will take a seasonal ingredient and give you some bullet points about it – such as what it is, where it comes from, nutritional info – and then end the post with a round up of 5-10 links to recipes which include the ingredient to give you an idea of different ways to use it. Shall we begin?
What is rhubarb?
Rhubarb is a vegetable with big, green, fan-like leaves and reddish or green stalks. Most of the rhubarb used for cooking has reddish stalks since, well, it’s prettier. 🙂 And it has a more delicate, sweeter flavor. Only the stalks of the rhubarb are used for cooking. The leaves are poisonous (DO NOT EAT) and the roots are used in traditional medicines. Rhubarb prefers cold, damp climates, and doesn’t like to grow in warmer places, which is probably why it’s popular in Northern Europe/England, and in the Northern US.
One interesting fact – rhubarb is legally classified as a fruit in the US. Though there are a number of botanical fruits which we think of as culinary vegetables (such as tomatoes and cucumbers), rhubarb is the only vegetable I can think of which has crossed the divide in the other direction.
Where does rhubarb come from?
Rhubarb has been cultivated for thousands of years. The earliest records we have of it are from China, and it probably was first found somewhere in Northern China, Mongolia, or Siberia. It made its way to Europe in the 1300s but didn’t make its way into dinner until the 1600s, with the first recorded recipe we know of in 1807, which is a recipe for a rhubarb tart. Sounds good to me! By the 1820s, rhubarb was growing in the US, starting in Maine and Massachusetts. I know that rhubarb is still very popular here in MA, and, since rhubarb is very much a seasonal plant, seeing the stalks show up in April and May means spring is truly here.
What does rhubarb taste like?
Rhubarb is very tart and rather tannic, which gives it a astringent flavor. Raw rhubarb is firm and crunchy, with long fibers going up the stalks, a bit like celery. Young, thin stalks will be pink in the middle and they have a more delicate, sweeter flavor and are also more tender. When cooking rhubarb, you may want to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe to account for how young or old your rhubarb stalks are. Though you can eat rhubarb raw, just dip it in sugar and munch, rhubarb is generally cooked and shines in pies, sorbets, compotes, and baked goods.
What’s the nutritional info on rhubarb?
Rhubarb is naturally very low in calories and high in fiber. (Noting that most people eat rhubarb in pie and custard, so the low calorie count is rather negated there.) And it is also packed with vitamins, such as vitamin C, vitamin K, various B vitamins; minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, manganese; and antioxidents, like beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Tasty and good for you!
How do you cook rhubarb?
But you want to know how to cook it and I can help!
- Vegan Gluten Free Raspberry Rhubarb Crisp – for those looking for a gluten-free option, rhubarb makes a great crisp
- Strawberry Rhubarb Smash – anyone up for a cocktail?
- Pork Tenderloin with Spiced Rhubarb Chutney – a great sweet and savory recipe for rhubarb
- Persian Rhubarb and Beef with Rice – a classic Persian stew for rhubarb
- Rhubarb Jam – Rhubarb the way it was meant to be. All by itself!
And of course I have a few recipes myself (this list will be updated as I add more recipes to the site):