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Tips for Using Rhubarb for Dessert

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Rhubarb is not a food I grew up eating and I don’t think I’m alone in having been unfamiliar with it until later in life. Is it a vegetable or a fruit? Well, that’s kind of a trick question. Rhubarb is really a vegetable but it is also considered a fruit, especially for import/export purposes. It looks kind of like celery with a henna rinse as the stalks can be all shades of pink or red. There are two types of rhubarb: the traditional type has thick, green stalks while hothouse rhubarb is thinner and has brighter colors. The deep red stalks may look prettier but they are much tarter than the mellow-flavored green stalks. This tartness leads rhubarb to usually be cooked with sugar and sweet fruits such as strawberries. It is known as the “pie plant” because it is a popular pie filling but rhubarb can also be used in savory dishes. If you have never cooked with rhubarb, it’s a great time to start. Here are some tips for using rhubarb in your desserts.

1. Selection and Storage

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Rhubarb comes into season in April, peaks in April and May and is available through the summer. Hothouse rhubarb is available January through June. Choose fresh rhubarb that has firm, crisp stalks and shiny skins. Avoid stalks that are limp with blemishes and split ends. Look for small leaves which indicate a younger plant but don’t eat them – the leaves contain oxalic acid which is toxic. Remove the leaves from the stalks before storing. Rhubarb stalks can be stored in the fridge for up to a week in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t cut it until you are ready to use it or the rhubarb will dry out although you can freeze the cut stalks in airtight bags. Rhubarb can also be purchased canned or frozen.

2. How to Prep It

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After trimming off the toxic leaves, wash the stalks and pat them dry. Remove any blemishes with a vegetable peeler. Sometimes the stems of wild rhubarb are fibrous. To remove the strings, cut a small slit at one end of the stalk. Hold the edge of the slit and peel it back, taking stringy fibers with it. Cut the stalks into whatever size pieces you need for the recipe, usually between ¼-inch and ½-inch for desserts. Avoid cooking rhubarb in aluminum, iron or copper pans because the acidity of the rhubarb will react with these metals leading to discoloration. Instead, choose enameled cast iron, anodized aluminum, non-stick coated aluminum or glass.

3. Sauces, Sorbets and Smoothies

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Rhubarb can be made into a sweet sauce that is delicious served over ice cream. To make Rhubarb Sauce: in a saucepan, combine 3 cups diced fresh rhubarb, ½ cup sugar or sweetener of your choice, ¼ cup water and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Spoon over this Coconut Ice Cream or The Best Raw Ice Cream Ever. Instead of a topping, you can also use rhubarb as an ingredient to make ice cream or sorbet. This Rhubarb, Rosewater and Lime Sorbet is easy to make and only has 5 ingredients. Another way to enjoy rhubarb is to drink it. Start your day with this refreshing and pretty Strawberry Rhubarb Smoothie.

4. Muffins

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Rhubarb and brown sugar is a match made in heaven. Make these Rhubarb Crumb Muffins for a treat or a yummy breakfast. Combine 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed and 3 Tbs. warm water in a mug, mix and set aside for 10 minutes to thicken and gel. In a bowl, combine 1½ cups flour, ¾ cups brown sugar, ½ tsp. baking soda and ½ tsp. kosher salt. In another bowl, combine the flax gel, 1/3 cup apple sauce, ½ cup non-dairy milk, ½ tsp. apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in 1 cup diced rhubarb and ½ cup chopped walnuts. Spoon the batter into oiled or lined muffin tins ¾ of the way filled. In a bowl, combine ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup finely chopped walnuts and ½ tsp. ground cinnamon for the topping. Distribute the topping over the muffins and bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Also try these Roasted Rhubarb Granola Muffins made with spelt flour and coconut sugar.

5. Bars and Granola

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The next time you make granola, mix in some rhubarb. This Berrylicious Rhubarb Crumble Granola has rhubarb, blueberries, plums, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds. It’s fruity, juicy, sticky and delicious. Eat it as a snack, with non-dairy milk as a cereal or as a crunchy topping for yogurt or ice cream. If you’re looking for a healthy snack, these Healthy Strawberry Rhubarb Bars are just the thing. They have a crust made from oats, almonds and raisins and are both tangy and sweet.

6. Pies, Crisps and Crumbles

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Rhubarb is such a popular pie filling that it is often called the “pie plant.” Rhubarb pie is even one of the signature dishes in the Swedish island-province of Gotland. This Swedish Rhubarb Crumble is tangy but sweetened with brown sugar. Rhubarb desserts elicit fond memories for many people who grew up with Mom’s or Grandma’s signature rhubarb pies and crisps. Those traditional recipes can be honored while made a bit healthier by using non-dairy ingredients and less sugar. This Classic Rhubarb Crisp – A Summer Tradition brings back all those precious, nostalgic feelings.

Strawberries and rhubarb are also a classic tradition. The sweetness of the strawberries balances the tartness of the rhubarb and the colors of both make beautiful desserts. This Seasonal Strawberry Rhubarb Pie also contains lemon juice and orange zest for extra sweetness while cinnamon and allspice add a bit of spice. If you’re gluten-free, you don’t have to miss out on any of the fun; just use a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make this beautiful Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie.

It’s always fun to try new foods and rhubarb is ready to be enjoyed. Whether it’s new to you or a childhood favorite, these rhubarb desserts should be part of your spring delights.

Lead Image Source: Classic Rhubarb Crisp – A Summer Tradition

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