A dense patch of rhubarb has long been a fixture of a country backyard garden, and a warm late spring day doesn't seem complete without breaking off a stalk and savoring its mouth-puckering juice. While there are plenty of ways to cook rhubarb in desserts that include the ever-popular strawberry-rhubarb pie, the leafy vegetable is also delightful raw when combined with ingredients that offset yet still celebrate its tangy personality.
The Simplest Approach
Breaking off a stalk of rhubarb and going the purist route enables you to sample its intense sourness, but you can temper the experience a bit (after washing it, of course) by peeling off its tough stringy outer fibers. Sprinkle the tender flesh with a little granulated sugar, drizzle it with a bit of honey or cut the sourness with a sprinkling of salt. Slice or dice whole or peeled stalks thinly to add to a fresh vegetable or fruit salad or use as a topping for yogurt or cereal.
Enjoy the fresh, crisp taste of rhubarb in a compote, which is a mixture of different types of fruit that is served chilled or at room temperature. In a non-reactive bowl, such as glass or stainless steel, combine desired amounts of sliced rhubarb, dried apricots, dried cranberries or other dried fruit. Flavor with fresh rosemary and a fruity liqueur. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for 24 hours, stirring twice before serving. Discard the rosemary and add mint as a garnish. Another variation involves combining thinly sliced rhubarb stalks with dried apricots and figs, sweetening with a little honey and seasoning with chopped fresh thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours to allow flavors to blend.
For a cool quick snack, make a smoothie with strawberries, rhubarb, mangoes, ginger and coconut water. Alternatively, blend coconut water with chopped watermelon, rhubarb, celery, cucumber, pear, celery, part of a lime minus the peel and frozen strawberries until creamy and thick. Steaming the rhubarb for a minute softens it and removes some of the tartness, but you can use it raw if you prefer. Experiment with other flavors such as bananas, orange juice, vanilla-flavored soy or almond milk or flavorings such as honey, vanilla or cinnamon.
A Word of Warning
Rhubarb contains oxalate acid, which if consumed in large enough amounts, can cause serious illness. The acid is most highly concentrated in the leaves, which should never be eaten, either raw or cooked. While you would have to eat quite a few leaves to cause serious problems, accidentally ingesting just a small portion is likely to make you sick. Supervise children when they are harvesting rhubarb, and be sure to completely dispose of the all parts of the leaves down to a distance of about two inches on the stalks.
Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.