I’ll admit that, like most, I take my rhubarb in strawberry-rhubarb pie. I think the best pie I have ever had came from a little country store called Heart ‘N Hand just outside of the town of Skaneateles in the Finger Lakes region of New York. My husband and I ceremoniously sliced into it two summers ago on our wedding day.
But whenever I see rhubarb in the grocery store, I am instantly reminded of another delicious memory—my first encounter with the rosy stalks. I think I was maybe 12 years old, with my mom at a farmer’s market, when she bought me a bundle. I chomped into a stick like it was celery, and my face puckered from its tartness. I liked the taste. Plus, there was something so Laura Ingalls about gnawing on the raw stalks.
If you are thinking about picking up a bundle (as I now am!) or have some rhubarb in your garden or CSA box that you don’t know what to do with, I did a little research. Of course, there are plenty of baked options (pie, cobbler, crisp, even muffins), but my intent is to offer up a few more unusual options.
1. Raw: Before you do any cooking with rhubarb, you ought to at least try it raw. (Note: Be sure to remove all the leaves, as they are poisonous.) Many suggest dipping the stalk in sugar or some other sweet, such as honey, maple syrup or agave nectar, to mellow its tartness a touch. Sprinkling diced rhubarb over yogurt or cereal is an option too.
2. Stirred: Rhubarb, like cranberries, can add a tart zing to a smoothie, and if you puree the vegetable, it can be added to a margarita as well. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver suggests making a jam by slicing rhubarb and cooking it with a couple tablespoons of water, blending and cooling it, and then adding champagne or prosecco for a rhubarb bellini. For a tasty nonalcoholic beverage, Serious Eats starts out by making a similar rhubarb syrup but instead adds it to freshly-steeped iced tea, topping it off with strawberries.
3. Smothered: Rhubarb sauces, chutneys and salsas add a unique flavor to savory dishes. Food writer (and occasional Smithsonian contributor) Kim O’Donnel says that rhubarb chutney—a good way to make use of rhubarb before it wilts—complements salmon, trout, roast chicken, turkey, duck and pork chops. It sounds easy too. She cooks one-inch pieces of rhubarb with orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and dates.
A surprisingly butterless recipe from Paula Deen for grilled chicken with rhubarb salsa calls for a salsa that mixes together rhubarb, strawberries, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil. Yum! But perhaps the most creative condiment is rhubarb aioli, which award-winning chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon, pairs with pork. He folds a rhubarb reduction into his homemade garlic mayonnaise.
4. Roasted: Raw julienned rhubarb can be added to a garden salad, but several recipes I have found instead suggest roasting chunks of rhubarb on a baking sheet drizzled with honey or sprinkled with sugar for about five minutes, letting them cool and then tossing them in with greens. These same recipes (example: from Martha Stewart) recommend a killer combination of rhubarb, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, arugula and fennel.
5. Dried: This one is rather time-intensive, and requires a dehydrator, but the fruit-roll-up-loving kid in me likes the sound of the rhubarb leather one commenter on Backpacker.com describes. Basically, to make it, you cook rhubarb in water, with a cinnamon stick, and add sugar to taste, until it is the consistency of applesauce. Then, you pour it into dehydrator trays lined with parchment paper and dry at 135 degrees for nine hours.