Rhubarb marks the beginning of spring like few other fruits and vegetables. Sure, fresh asparagus is another one that we can dream of during a cold November day, and it is truly a delicacy worthy of lots of praise, however rhubarb appears to be more forgotten. Perhaps it's because when most people eye it in the vegetable or fruit isle, they might throw a look at it and then walk by. Why? Because usually people don't know what to do with these long green, yellow and red-pinkish stalks, and therefore they are not a common sight in most households once April and May comes around. I bet the great majority of food shoppers wouldn't really know what it is, never mind know how to use it. And that is too bad, because few plants are as crisp, sour and intriguing as the rhubarb stalk.
When we were kids, we always paid attention to the rhubarb plant which dependably comes up with new stalks each spring. It's a perennial, so once you plant it, you really don't have to worry too much about it. You can be confident that it will produce fresh stalks each spring that are at first tender and soft, and then as summer progresses, become a bit more tough and stringy. You do however want to refrain from eating the leaves as they are toxic! If at first during spring you bite in to the stalks, as we often did when I grew up, you will be met by a very tart, sour and refreshing taste, almost like an explosion in your mouth. Interesting as it may be, raw rhubarb isn't something that you probably want to eat too much of, since the sourness and tartness get to you after awhile. However this is a wonderful canvas to work from; with a little added sugar you can produce superb dishes that loudly yell out the arrival of spring.
One of the most common things to do is rhubarb crisps, pies or other types of tarts. This is a very simple and easy way to create an elegant fruit desert. If the flavor of rhubarb is too much for you, then you could easily add some other fruit or berries to accompany it such as apples, strawberries or blueberries to mention a few.
Other nice ways of using this fruit is to make:
- the dessert rhubarb fool which basically is a compote mixed with whipped cream syrups to make interesting drinks with (virgin or with alcohol)
- chutneys and salsas that go perfectly with pork and chicken
- additions in cakes, muffins or other sweet breads
- cheesecake (flavor the cheese mixture and put a layer of cooked, strained rhubarb on top)
A great way of thinking of rhubarb is as a very tart, crisp vegetable and treat it as such. Don't just use it in desserts, even though it is indeed perfect for that. But also use it in combinations with meat, cheese and other types of food. I once had it sauteed along with white asparagus and roasted duck at a fine restaurant and it really gave the dish that little extra something that can completely transform an ordinary experience and turn it into something really special. Either way, try rhubarb out, enjoy it and experiment with it. And if you have the fortune to have a garden – please make an effort to plant it and you will be rewarded with fine and superb fruit without any hassle or hard work, year after year.