The word is out in culinary circles that rhubarb is making a comeback, but as far as I’m concerned it never went out of style. I cook with rhubarb whenever I see it in the stores, starting around late April, when it is easy to find the crisp, red stalks at farmers’ markets and even in most supermarkets. My mother made stewed rhubarb every week (in off seasons she used the frozen boxed kind), so it is either in my genes or deeply implanted in the food-memory part of my brain because It was one of her regular go-to side dishes (alternating with homemade applesauce) when she was at a loss for a vegetable.
In fact, rhubarb is a vegetable; it looks like red celery. So even though we usually cook it with sugar to temper its acidity, I suppose my mother could rightfully conclude that we were eating our vegetables. She made stewed rhubarb with much less sugar than most recipes call for (as I do to this day), but I don’t think she was thinking about nutrition. There were too many other good reasons to make it. Like, stewed rhubarb is incredibly fast and easy to prepare. It goes with almost any meat you cook, but because of its astringent nature it works particularly well with rich ones such as roast chicken, duck and lamb. It is also a sensational side dish for grilled or roasted salmon, arctic char, tilapia, cod and halibut. You can serve stewed rhubarb plain but it also benefits from a small amount of flavoring ingredients such as orange or lemon peel or spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. It lasts for a week in the refrigerator. It’s scrumptious.
Do you need more reasons? Here’s another: rhubarb is much more versatile than you might think. It’s used mostly for desserts – think rhubarb crisp and strawberry-rhubarb pie. Even plain old stewed rhubarb can be dessert if you spoon some on top of cheesecake or top it with whipped cream or even mix some into whipped cream to make a “fool.”
But you can also take advantage of rhubarb’s tart quality for sauces and side dishes at dinner. Make a tangy chutney to serve with grilled beef or chicken. Or sauté diced rhubarb with onion, celery and garlic, sprinkle with a few drops of Balsamic vinegar and serve as a garnish for salmon or other rich fish.
The recipe for stewed rhubarb is the one I’ve used for years and years. I usually don’t include the optional ingredients because I like the taste of rhubarb on its own, but feel free to embellish. If you have a small amount left over, mix in some chicken stock and use it as a glaze for roast chicken or turkey.
The recipes for rhubarb crisp and rhubarb chutney are fairly easy; crisp is always delicious with a plain flavored ice cream that doesn’t detract from the fruit. The chutney can be stored in the refrigerator and lasts for a week.
The last recipe for Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie shows the happy marriage of two spring ingredients, one sweet, the other, more assertive. Your house will smell divine when you make this dish. It’s a fabulous spring Shabbat dessert; for a meat meal use an all-shortening crust and switch to margarine in the pie filling.
WARNING: Do not eat rhubarb leaves, which contain poisonous oxalic acid. The stalks are perfectly safe.
Ronnie Fein has been a freelance food and lifestyle writer since 1980. She currently writes regular features for the food and community sections of daily newspapers and has written articles for Newsday, Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer’s Digest, Connecticut magazine, and many other publications. She operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, Connecticut and is the author of three cookbooks, the most recent is
Hip Kosher (DaCapo, 2008).
1-1/2 pounds rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons grated fresh orange or lemon peel, optional
1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, optional
3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice, optional
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
Cut the rhubarb into 3/4-inch thick slices and place in a stainless steel or enamel pan. Add the sugar. Add any of the optional ingredients if desired. Cover the pan and cook the mixture over low-medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened, stirring the ingredients occasionally. Chill well before serving. Makes 4 servings (about 2 cups)
1-1/2 pounds rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks (or shortening)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch thick slices and place in a bowl. Add the sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon and lemon peel and toss ingredients. Place the mixture into a baking dish. In a bowl combine the brown sugar, oats and flour. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. Place on top of the fruit. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Makes 6 servings
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel, optional
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/3 cup chilled shortening
4-5 tablespoons ice water or milk
3 cups sliced rhubarb, about 1-1/4 lbs.
1 pint strawberries, cut in half
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange peel
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (or use cinnamon)
1 tablespoons butter
To make the dough, combine the flour, sugar, salt and lemon peel, if used, in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and shortening in chunks and process on pulse about 24 times, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add as much of the liquid as is needed to make a dough. Cut the dough in half, flatten into disks and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll into circles to fit a 9" pie pan, slightly overlapping the rim. Place one circle inside a pie pan. To make the filling, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, salt, flour, lemon peel and nutmeg. Add the filling to the pie pan. Cut the butter into chunks and place on top of the filling. Top with second pie dough circle. Make a fluted or crimped edge. Brush top of pie with some milk if desired. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Makes one pie
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
4 whole cloves
2 large shallots, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup golden raisins
Combine the rhubarb, sugar, cider vinegar, cinnamon stick, ginger, cloves, shallots, garlic and raisins in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat, lower the heat to medium and cook for 12-15 minutes or until the raisins are tender and the sauce is slightly thickened. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Makes about 3 cups