Originally grown in Asia as a medicinal plant, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable but its tart flavor makes it a terrific ingredient in fruity desserts, compotes, and chutneys. Think rhubarb pie or galettes, rhubarb torte, rhubarb crumble, rhubarb jelly, and rhubarb drinks such as martinis and margaritas. Two popular red fruits, strawberries and cherries, work well with rhubarb and that’s perfect because they are all in season at the same time, so try them together in pies, jellies, or even sangria.
Whether you buy rhubarb from a produce stand, farmers markets, or grocery store, or perhaps grow your own, you’ll want fresh crisp stalks and deep red color, which usually indicates more flavor. The leaves are not edible as they contain the toxin oxalic acid, so cut those away completely. Stand the stalks in a glass of cold water for an hour to refresh them before cooking. Rhubarb stores well in both the refrigerator and freezer, and also cans well using the hot-pack boiling water method.
Growing rhubarb is relatively easy because it’s a perennial, it just needs lots of room to accommodate the large leaves, so pick a spot on the edge of your garden where it can take off and not cover your other plants. Rhubarb thrives in moderately acidic soil, so add some pine bark mulch if necessary. In warm climates it grows year round and produces two harvests each year, while in temperate climates the parts above ground disappear during the winter and grow back in the spring producing one harvest each year. You can force rhubarb in winter, just cover it with an overturned bucket or pot, and it will sprout more quickly and produce longer stalks and smaller leaves. To harvest rhubarb, just pull the stalks away.
Raw rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin K and a moderately good source of Vitamin C, Calcium, and Manganese, though cooking slightly reduces the amount of Vitamin C and Manganese and increases the Calcium.
For a delicious way to get started cooking with rhubarb, try this quick and easy recipe for spiced chutney, which pairs well with roasted pork, chicken, duck, or lamb. The red onion and cherries carry on the bright red theme and the rhubarb and apple cider vinegar add a delicious tartness.
3/4 cup (131 g) granulated sugar 1/3 cup (80 ml) apple cider vinegar 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper 1-1/2 pounds (680 g) fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 medium red onion, chopped 1/3 cup (about 2 ounces/57 g) dried tart cherries
1. Combine the sugar, cider vinegar, ginger, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and red pepper in heavy large Dutch oven. Bring to simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2. Add the rhubarb, onion and dried cherries. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until rhubarb is tender and mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool completely and store in a jar. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.)