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Seasonal Snippet: Remarkable Rhubarb

Seasonal Snippet: Remarkable Rhubarb

Katy Morris

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!

rhubarb stalks

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.


rhubarb leaves = POISON!
rhubarb leaves = POISON!

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.


Rhubarb Recap:

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…

rhubarb- chopped

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


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