Have you ever cooked with rhubarb? For some people, rhubarb is a part of childhood memories of sweet summer pies, but for others, it’s foreign. I am in the latter camp, having not even heard of it until I was an adult. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but its culinary use is like that of a fruit. You’ve probably seen it in the markets – it looks kind of like celery, but the stalks come in pretty red and pink colors.
There are two types of rhubarb. Traditional rhubarb has thick, green stalks while hothouse rhubarb has thinner stalks with bright red and pink colors. The brighter the color, the more tart the flavor seems to be. If you’ve ever wondered why rhubarb seems to be paired with strawberries all the time, it’s because the sweetness of the strawberries helps to balance out rhubarb’s tart flavor. Rhubarb is nicknamed the “pie plant” because it is a popular ingredient in desserts, but it also has its place in savory dishes. If you’re new to rhubarb, here’s all you need to know to enjoy this springtime favorite.
1. Selection and Storage
Rhubarb comes into season in April, peaks in April and May, and is available through summer. Hothouse rhubarb is available January through June. When choosing rhubarb, look for 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.
When you’ve selected your rhubarb, remove the leaves from the stalks before you store them. Don’t cut the stalks until you are ready to use them, or the rhubarb will dry out. Uncut stalks can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week when sealed in a plastic bag. If you want to cut the stalks in advance, you can freeze them in an airtight bag or container. Rhubarb can also be purchased canned or frozen, but there’s nothing quite like fresh produce.
After trimming off the toxic leaves, wash the stalks and pat them dry. With a vegetable peeler, remove any blemishes from the surface of the stalks. Sometimes, the stems of wild rhubarb are fibrous, making them difficult to work with. To remove the strings of fiber, use a small, sharp knife to cut a tiny slit at one end of the stalk. Hold the edge of the slit and peel the skin back, which will take all of the stringy fibers with it. Cut the stalks into whatever size pieces you need for the recipe. For desserts, this is usually between 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch. Avoid cooking rhubarb in aluminum, iron, or copper pans because the acidity of the rhubarb will react with these metals, leading to discoloration of your cookware. Instead, choose pans that are made from enameled cast iron, anodized aluminum, non-stick coated aluminum, or glass.
3. Savory Dishes
Rhubarb may be known for desserts, but it can be used in savory dishes as well. Cut raw rhubarb into matchsticks, toss it with a little bit of vinegar to soften the stalks, and add it to salads and slaws. Or, you can roast rhubarb in the oven which caramelizes the sugars and brings out an intense, sweet, yet savory flavor. Add rhubarb to sauces, chutneys, and glazes for color and sweetness. This Raw Cranberry Chutney would be the perfect place to add rhubarb.
4. Bars and Granola
Granola and fruit-and-nut bars are great ways to use rhubarb. It adds sweetness, but not much, so it’s best used in combination with other fruits. This Berrylicious Rhubarb Crumble Granola has rhubarb, blueberries, plums, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds. It’s fruity, juicy, sticky, and delicious. Enjoy it with non-dairy milk as a cereal, as a snack, or as a crunchy topping for non-diary yogurt and ice cream. If you’re looking for a healthy snack, then these Healthy Strawberry Rhubarb Bars are just the thing you want to make. These tangy and sweet bars have a crust made from oats, almonds, and raisins.
5. Summer Refreshments
Everyone loves strawberry ice cream and sorbet, but this summer, give rhubarb a try! This Rhubarb, Rosewater, and Lime Sorbet is easy to make, and it contains only five ingredients. Learn about 7 Ways to Make Ice Cream Without Dairy and then use your know-how to add some rhubarb to this Strawberry Banana Ice Cream Sundae. If you prefer treats on a stick, then you have to make these colorful and creamy Strawberry-Rhubarb-Coconut Pops. That same combination of strawberry, rhubarb, and coconut come together in this Strawberry Rhubarb and Coconut Panna Cotta, which may be the most impressive dessert, you’ll ever make with fewer than six ingredients. Another way to enjoy rhubarb is to drink it. This refreshing and pretty pink Strawberry Rhubarb Smoothie is a great breakfast or afternoon treat.
6. Baking with Rhubarb
Rhubarb is probably most well-known for being baked in pies; that’s how it got its nickname as 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 — and rhubarb and brown sugar are like a match made in heaven. 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 by using non-dairy ingredients as replacements. This Classic Rhubarb Crisp – A Summer Tradition is a healthier take on the traditional recipe, but it still brings back all those feelings of nostalgia. For a real summer treat, try this Rhubarb Cinnamon Crumble. It’s so easy and delicious; you’ll make it over and over again.
Besides pies, crisps and crumbles, rhubarb can be used in cakes and muffins. This Vanilla Rhubarb Coffee Cake belongs on the brunch table. It’s has a mouth-watering balance of sweet vanilla and the tart rhubarb. The rhubarb offers small, juicy bursts of tartness in contrast to the soft, moist cake. These gluten-free Banana Rhubarb Peach Muffins are also moist and delicious. Filled with fruity flavor, these are great for breakfast, or as a snack. You’ll also want to try these Roasted Rhubarb Granola Muffins. The rhubarb is roasted in coconut sugar, which softens and sweetens it, but still allows it to retain a sharpness that perfectly complements the sweet, moist texture of the muffins.
7. Strawberry and Rhubarb
Strawberries and rhubarb are a classic tradition. The sweetness of the strawberries balances the tartness of the rhubarb and together, the colors of both make create beautiful desserts. This Seasonal Strawberry Rhubarb Pie also contains lemon juice and orange zest for extra sweetness, while cinnamon and allspice add warmth. 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. The flavors of this raw Strawberry Rhubarb Tart will instantly take you back to your childhood summer memories.
Whether you’ve been enjoying rhubarb since you were a child or whether it’s completely new to you, these recipes will make you a fan of the “pie plant.” This seasonal vegetable will add beautiful color and just the right amount of sweetness to your spring and summer recipes.
Lead image source: Strawberry Rhubarb Tart