In the first 1938 edition of "Larousse Gastronomique," an encyclopedic tome on gastronomy, editor Prosper Montagné advised treating and cooking rhubarb's leaves as you would spinach. While the effects may well have proved fatal (high concentrations of oxalic acid render the leaves toxic) and left me wondering, "Did they have recipe testers back then?" Montagné may have been on to something.
For many of us, it's hard to imagine rhubarb without a generous amount of sugar to take the edge off its sharp taste. As early as the 19th century, English cookbooks have been baking it into desserts, and come each April, the first pop of fuchsia at the market never fails to inspire a flurry of lattice pies, tarts and custards. Lauded as a pastry star alongside the best of fruit, rhubarb is rarely seen for what it truly is - a vegetable.
Indeed, the bright tang that allows rhubarb to be a welcome foil to rich, buttery pastry and custard-based desserts is the same distinct flavor that lends itself to myriad savory preparations. This concept, although unusual for many in the States, is nothing unheard of in other parts of the world. Persians take advantage of its acidity by stirring it into a hearty, herb-packed lamb stew (khoresh), while the Polish roast it with potatoes and mushrooms in a gratin. And the Norwegians even make - albeit slightly sweetened - soup out of it!
But warmer months call for lighter fare, and to finally give rhubarb its savory due, I offer you a springboard of ideas (pun intended) to get you cooking, rather than baking, with the celery-like stalks:
- Pickle it. A quick pickle preserves the plant's refreshing crunch while taming its bite. Bonus: It allows you to infuse rhubarb with whatever flavors you want. Slice it thin or chop it, and throw it in with leafy greens, grain salads or other shaved vegetables for a zesty pop. Or you can serve it alongside charcuterie or even as a topping for a burger, sausage or sandwich as an eye-catching accoutrements.
- Sauce it. A sweet-and-sour relish, or sauce, lets the plant's tart fruitiness shine, especially when paired with pork, chicken, duck or rabbit. To mine, I add fresh ginger and mustard seeds for a kick of heat and spice, apple cider vinegar for pucker, and dark brown sugar to round it all out and depth. You can also cook rhubarb down and turn it into a marinade, a tangy barbecue sauce or even a vinaigrette. Quickly roast it with a touch of sweetener and aromatics, then you can likewise marry it with meat, fish, pasta, and other vegetable dishes.
Shave it. The plant's piquancy also elevates fish such as trout or halibut, so with that in mind, I shave it to combine with radishes for a salad that can be used to top fillets (hello, taco night!), but again, would go beautifully with any grilled or pan-seared meats.
So, take a page from "Larousse" and allow rhubarb to parade its true vegetal colors. Just please, stick with the stalks and throw away those leaves!
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SHAVED RHUBARB AND RADISH SALAD WITH APPLE CIDER VINAIGRETTE
Pink-hued rhubarb, radish and red onions are tossed with a honey-kissed vinaigrette for a Mexican-inspired salad that plays against the richness of fish, such as halibut, trout, salmon or mackerel. For an extra kick, add some thinly sliced jalapeño.
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced or shaved radishes (from about 1 bunch)
1 cup thinly shaved rhubarb (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
1/4 cup hulled, roasted and salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Whisk together the vinegar, honey and oil in a medium bowl. Add the radish, rhubarb, onion, cilantro and pumpkin seeds, tossing to coat.
Taste and season lightly with salt. Serve right away.
Nutrition | Calories: 110; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 70 mg; Carbohydrates: 8 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 3 g.
(From baker Polina Chesnakova.)
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Active: 25 mins | Total: 3 hours 25 mins
2 servings (makes 2 cups)
This easy, quick pickle tames rhubarb's tang, turning it into a crunchy addition to salads, cheese and charcuterie plates, or your next sandwich. Try playing around with other aromatics, such as ginger or garlic; whole seeds such as coriander, fennel and mustard; and warm spices such as cloves, star anise and allspice.
Storage Notes: The pickled rhubarb will keep in its brine, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.
2 small fresh tarragon sprigs or 1 bay leaf
4 whole black peppercorns
8 ounces rhubarb, sliced diagonally into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Combine the tarragon and black peppercorns in a small bowl or a 2-cup measuring container and top with the rhubarb.
Stir together the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove the pickling liquid from the heat and immediately pour it over the rhubarb. If the rhubarb isn't submerged, top with a ramekin to weigh it down.
Refrigerate until completely cool, then transfer the rhubarb, aromatics and pickling solution to a jar. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before using.
Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.
(From baker Polina Chesnakova.)
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LENTIL SALAD WITH PICKLED RHUBARB, CHEVRE AND ARUGULA
1 hr 10 min
Pickled rhubarb gives this salad a pop of color and a sweet-sour punch. Thinly sliced celery and fennel add texture, while fresh chevre echoes the rhubarb's bright notes and provides a creamy foil to the salad's acidity.
The lentils can be cooked and marinated up to 3 days in advance and combined with the rest of the ingredients right before serving.
2 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
1/2 yellow onion (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 cup brown or green lentils, picked through and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, plus more as needed
1/4 cup Pickled Rhubarb, coarsely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons of its brine, plus more as needed (see related recipe)
1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel, plus 1/4 cup fennel fronds, plus more as needed
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/4 cup celery leaves or fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more as needed
2 cups baby arugula
3 to 4 ounces fresh chevre
Flaky sea salt
Fill a large pot with water and add the garlic, onion and bay leaf, if using. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 25 to 28 minutes, until the lentils are al dente.
Drain thoroughly, discard the aromatics, and transfer the lentils to a large bowl. While the lentils are still warm, season with the salt and toss with the oil, vinegar and brine. Let the lentils cool completely.
When ready to serve, toss the lentils with the rhubarb, fennel and celery. Taste and season lightly with more salt, olive oil, vinegar or brine, as needed. Toss in the arugula and transfer to a serving plate or bowl.
Crumble the chevre over the top (to taste). Garnish with the fennel fronds and celery leaves or parsley. Sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top and serve right away.
Nutrition (computed without the pickled rhubarb and its brine) | Calories: 340; Total Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 550 mg; Carbohydrates: 33 g; Dietary Fiber: 16 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 17 g.
(From baker Polina Chesnakova.)
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RHUBARB, GINGER AND MUSTARD RELISH
24 servings (3 cups)
Tart, fruity rhubarb is offset by spicy fresh ginger and mustard seeds, while dark brown sugar adds depth and sweetness. Serve the relish with pork, chicken, duck, rabbit and even an oily fish such as salmon or halibut.
MAKE AHEAD: You can make the relish up to 1 week ahead and store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.
The relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons mustard seed
A pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup golden raisins
Heat the oil in a 3-quart Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds and red pepper flakes and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until onion begins to soften.
Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the sugar and let the mixture start to barely bubble at the edges. Cover and decrease the heat to low; let the mixture cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and add half of the rhubarb and all the raisins. Re-cover and cook, without stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the rhubarb has softened a bit. Add the remaining rhubarb and cook for another 5 minutes - you want some of the rhubarb to remain intact at the end. Remove the relish from the heat and transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate, uncovered, until completely cooled. (The relish will seem thin at first, but will thicken as it cools in the refrigerator.) Serve cool or at room temperature.