Cooking with Rhubarb

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Like an invasion of pink alien celery, rhubarb has been piled high at greenmarkets recently. Don't take its presence for granted, however: Rhubarb and its popular companion strawberries are just about done for the year.

The shiny, vividly colored stalks may seem intimidating to the untrained eye, but, in reality, rhubarb cooks quickly and requires little preparation. There's no need to peel the skin and both the red and greenish-white portions of the stem taste the same—tart and tangy. Joe Nicholson, the CEO of Red Jacket Orchards, grows rhubarb in New York's Finger Lakes region and is a regular presence at the city's greenmarkets. He explained how to pick out the best stalks: "I would be looking for 50 percent red, [but] the size of the stalk is not important."

Deb Perelman, the author of the food blog Smitten Kitchen, adds that the rhubarb should be firm and crisp, like an apple. Firmness can be a secondary concern if the rhubarb is going to be cooked down to a compote, which, she said, takes about 20 minutes.

Rhubarb is on oddity in the vegetable world. "It's funny because it's a vegetable and it comes in with asparagus and all these other vegetables, but it thinks it's a fruit," noted Perelman, who said she's seen it used in chutneys and savory applications, as well.

In addition, Nicholson pointed out that a few wineries near the Finger Lakes also make rhubarb wine. Montezuma Winery produces both a sparkling and flat version, and Torrey Ridge's Summer Delight wine also includes rhubarb.

Perelman explains that rhubarb can add a nice, lemon-like acidity to savory dishes. "For people who try to cook locally, at least in the Northeast, we don't have lemons," explained Perelman. "They don't grow locally. So if you were trying to get that acidity that you might want from a lemon, you could get it from sautéing in some rhubarb."

Below, find one savory recipe Perelman uses with rhubarb.

Couscous With Rhubarb, Asparagus and Walnuts

Adapted by Smitten Kitchen from the New York Times, 5/15/94
Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil scallions, rhubarb, zucchini
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • 6 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium-size zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut across into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 1/2 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked couscous
  • 2 teaspoons walnut oil
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 30 seconds, not letting it brown. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes if skinny asparagus, 3 minutes if thicker, stirring frequently. Add the zucchini and rhubarb and cook until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Toss the scallions into the pan, stir them around and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the couscous in a large bowl and add the vegetable mixture over it. Drizzle with walnut oil, sprinkle with walnuts. Serve immediately.


Joe Nicholson and Deb Perelman


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Comments [3]

Eliza, a smitten kitchen fan

We made this with a ton of substitutions (since we're using what's fresh here and now). Israeli cous cous with sauteed rhubarb and swiss chard, along with kalamata olives... drizzled in extra virgin olive oil. I should have "listened" and just sauteed the rhubarb for a few minutes, but I thought it would need more time. It was a little mushy, but added such a great flavor, I can see myself using it for everything from stuffed chicken to soups. YUM! This was our first savory rhubarb and we're already hooked. Rhubarb grows here (in VT) all summer long, so we have a long season to enjoy it. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jun. 26 2010 07:36 PM
Diaz from New York, NY

We made this last night, with one substitute: sugar snap peas instead of asparagus for more sweetness to offset the acidity of the rhubarb. We also used a yellow zucchini, instead of green, to avoid any possible bitterness of skin--and besides, the colors were so pretty together. It was delicious and took under 10 minutes to make! This recipe is a keeper.

Jun. 21 2010 07:13 AM
Sherret Chase from Pompton Plains, NJ

OH NO - SOMEONE SPEAKS AS IF THEY KNOW THE INNER ARTS OF RHUBARB WHO HAS ONLY KNOWN OF IT FOR FIVE YEARS!!!!! .... Please inquire of anyone who has more than five years experience with rhubarb about the basics. R is highly acidic, sour, and requires enormous amounts of sugar or other sweetener to make it palatable. - unless you do the following. Bring the mass to a boil with just enough water to cover the pile of cut up R, then immediately stop and remove from the heat upon reaching boiling. Discard that first amount of water which will remove the excess acid. You may save that liquor aside for some other use but it is enormously sour. Then add enough sweetener to suit and return to a simmering boil with only the internal water released from the R as it is reheated. If you have further questions, ask Babs Breneiser in Santa Fe, NM who taught me this and other wisdoms when I lived behind her four hundred year old apple tree 38 years ago next to the acequia madre.

Jun. 18 2010 06:28 PM

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Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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