Fruit or Veggie? When considering rhubarb most of us think of it a fruit. After all, we generally enjoy rhubarb in sweet dishes like pies, tarts, and cobblers. Low and behold, rhubarb is indeed a vegetable – right there with celery, fennel, and asparagus.
And it’s time to welcome it as one of the earliest vegetables of the spring season. Don’t let your lack of familiarity with these stalks prevent you from exploring its many uses!
What does rhubarb taste like?
Most people think that rhubarb is sweet on its own, but when eaten raw, it actually taste quite tart and “watery” like celery. That’s why most people combine rhubarb with sugar and other natural sweeteners, like strawberries, the perfect compliment.
Dark red stalks tend to have more flavor than lighter ones, and those with smaller stalks are more tender than larger ones.
Watch out for the leaves and don’t EVER eat them, as they contain a high amount of toxic poison called oxalic acid crystals that can result in some serious repercussions. When preparing rhubarb, simply cut them off and discard.
What should I look for when choosing rhubarb?
Chose shiny, firm, crisp, dark, red stalks. The deep red color indicates its tartness, and dark green, blemish-free leaves are the best. Note that the variation in color does not indicate whether it is ripe or not; instead, simply look at the size as your indicator. Ripe stalks will be about 1-2 inches thick.
How much should I buy?
A good rule of thumb is that to get about 3 cups of sliced, uncooked rhubarb, you must buy at least a pound.
What about storage?
Rhubarb tend to perish quickly, so either use it right away, or store the stalks in a sealed plastic bag in your fridge’s veggie drawer where they should be okay for 4-5 days. Be sure to get rid of the leaves but keep the stalks in tact so they can better retain their moisture.
If you want to freeze your rhubarb, slice the stalks into chunks and put in an airtight bag. Stored this way, they can last for months.
What about prep?
First, trim off the leaves and toss them. If you have found ripe, mature rhubarb where the diameter is greater that 1 inch, it’s easiest to slice them lengthwise in half.
If you get them from the farmer’s market, you may have to pull the fibrous strings off too. Wash thoroughly. If you are going to be making a stew or sauce, 1-inch slices should be good, but recipes for pies and tarts usually call for smaller pieces.
How do I cook it?
Although we all think of strawberry and rhubarb as the ultimate duo, there are many other ways to cook, pair, and enjoy rhubarb. You can make great jams with it and add in some ginger for a more dynamic flavor profile. Rhubarb is also great in savory dishes, and can be stewed (about 10 minutes), roasted (20 or so minutes), or pureed and paired with fish or in stews. The flavor of rhubarb becomes sweeter the more you cook it.
See Kosher Like Me’s Facebook page for the simple and scrumptious Minty Strawberry Rhubarb Compote shown above. Does it remind you of a compote your grandmother used to simmer? When Liz made it for her family it disappeared in one sitting. Nuf said.
Tip: When stewing, don’t use iron, aluminum or copper saucepans because the reaction with rhubarb can result in stained pans, and it will turn the rhubarb brown. Go with cast iron or non-stick to be safe.
Keep in mind that when rhubarb is cooked, its juice becomes thick and its fibers fray off, so when making rhubarb chutneys or jams, you have to cook it for a long time. If you cook it for a shorter time, it will retain its cohesiveness.
Family: Part of the genus Rheum in the plant family, Polygonaceae, herbaceous perennial plants
Peak season: Late April through July
Nutrition info: Low in fat & calories, high in fiber, calcium, vitamin A, and potassium
What to look for: Firm, fat, and vibrant.
Important to know: The leaves contain poison! Do not eat them!
Storage: 3 days in a plastic bag in the fridge
Cooking: Both savory AND sweet dishes! Check out a suggestion below…
Thank you, Louisa Shafia, for your tantalizing recipe for Rhubarb and Rose Water Sorbet with Rice Noodles. Find more Persian recipes in Shafia’s recently released and VERY beautiful book The New Persian Kitchen.
Note from Liz: This book is not kosher but it has plenty of vegetarian and easily adaptable, kosher friendly recipes within. I’m so crazy about it that as soon as I received my copy from Amazon, I promptly bought a second to give as a gift.
Recipe and photo reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Food Photography credit: Sara Remington © 2013
Recipe,notes and photo courtesy of Louisa Shafia, THE NEW PERSIAN KITCHEN, 2013
On the streets of Tehran you’ll find food vendors selling dishes of chewy frozen vermicelli suspended in an icy white sherbet with a perfumed scent. This whimsical treat is called faloodeh, and is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, dating as far back as 400 BCE. Faloodeh is typically white, but this version is colored bright pink by a compote of rhubarb. A drizzle of something tart, like sour cherry syrup or lime juice, brings this dessert vividly to life.
This recipe is vegan and pareve (non-dairy)
- 2 ounces rice vermicelli
- 1 pound rhubarb stalks, preferably red, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- 11/2 cups organic cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, plus extra for garnish
- Crushed pistachios, for garnish
- Sour cherry syrup for garnish (optional)
- Put the vermicelli in a bowl. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and pour over the vermicelli. Soak for 4 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Cut the vermicelli into 1-inch lengths.
- In a saucepan, combine the rhubarb with the water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Let cool completely.
- Pour the rhubarb into a blender. Add the rose water and lime juice and blend until smooth. Stir the vermicelli and rhubarb together in a large bowl. Pour into a shallow bak¬ing dish and freeze, uncovered.
- Rake the faloodeh with a fork after 2 hours to prevent it from freezing into a solid mass. Freeze and stir again after 2 hours. Repeat after another 2 hours, if necessary. The faloodeh will have a malleable consistency, somewhere between ice cream and sorbet, within 4 to 6 hours. Scoop it into serving bowls and top with pistachios and lime juice. Drizzle with sour cherry syrup, if desired. The faloodeh tastes best within 24 hours of being made.
Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Food Photography credit: Sara Remington © 2013