Rhubarb plants have a long life and may be harvested for upwards of 20 years! Rhubarb comes in red and green varieties, with the red variety being a bit sweeter (sweeter being a relative term!) The stalks or stems, which look a lot like red celery, are edible but stay away from the outer leaves as they are toxic.
When buying rhubarb, choose thick, firm stalks with no wrinkling or other signs of drying and remember any leaves MUST be discarded!
Refrigerate fresh rhubarb in a plastic bag for up to three days. You can also chop rhubarb, place in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag, and freeze for up to eight months.
A little history about rhubarb: Rhubarb is a relative of buckwheat and thrives in cold climates. It originated in Western China, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia and neighboring areas and early records of its use date to 2700 BC. The traditional role of rhubarb was medicinal: the dried root was a popular remedy for a wide range of illnesses. Its primary medicinal function was to induce vomiting, although rhubarb is also a mild astringent. This medicinal role caused the price of the dried root to rise and in 1542, rhubarb sold for ten times the price of cinnamon in France. In 1657 rhubarb sold for over twice the price of opium in England! Beginning in the eighteenth century, rhubarb began to be consumed in the US.
Rhubarb is a vegetable even though we often refer to it as “the first fruit of the season” and we tend to treat it more like a fruit (using it in pies and combining it with fruits to make a sweet sauce). Rhubarb is rich in Vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Rhubarb has some unusual non-culinary uses too. Rhubarb acts like a bleach on white cotton and some other natural materials. Simply take half of a mature stalk, mince it up and add a cup of water to it. Bring it to a rolling boil; remove from the heat; cool. Take the stained blouse, shirt or what-have-you and dab the juice from the cooled solution on the stain with a brush. Place the garment or item in the sun for an hour or two. Rinse the spot under warm water and launder as usual. No more stains!
But back to the culinary uses. Here are some great recipes for rhubarb to get you thinking of it as more than “the pie plant.” Enjoy!
Turkey Cutlets with Rhubarb Chutney
Per Serving: 294 Calories, 7 g Fat (1 g sat fat), 206 mg Sodium, 2 g fiber
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb (thawed and drained, if frozen)
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
4 turkey cutlets (about 1 pound), 1/4 inch thick
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rhubarb, raisins, brown sugar, vinegar, ginger and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; bring to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft and breaking down, 5 to 10 minutes more (it will take less time if using thawed frozen rhubarb). Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm
Sprinkle turkey on both sides with salt and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook until browned on both sides and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve the turkey with the chutney.
Beet, Rhubarb, and Orange Salad
Per Serving: 300 Calories, 16.3 g Fat (6 g Sat Fat), 4.2 g Fiber
8 Two to two and a half-inch-diameter red or yellow beets, 4 of each color if available
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Coarse kosher salt
3 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 large oranges
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon honey
3 cups watercress sprigs (if not available use mixed baby greens or baby arugula)
1 1/4 cups coarsely crumbled feta cheese (about one 7-ounce package)
Fresh chervil leaves (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place beets on large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil; sprinkle with coarse salt. Wrap beets in foil. Roast beets until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour. Unwrap and cool beets. Peel, then cut each into 8 wedges.
Bring 3 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, and pinch of coarse salt to simmer in large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb. Simmer over medium heat until just tender but still intact, 1 to 2 minutes (do not overcook or rhubarb will be mushy). Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to platter and cool completely. NOTE: Beets and rhubarb can be made one day ahead. Cover separately and chill.
Finely grate enough peel from 1 orange to measure 1/2 teaspoon; transfer to small bowl and reserve for dressing. Cut off peel and white pith from all oranges. Working over medium bowl to catch juice and using small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release orange segments into bowl; squeeze membranes to release juice into bowl. Transfer 2 tablespoons orange juice to bowl with orange peel. Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, honey, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil into bowl with orange peel and orange juice mixture. Season dressing with coarse salt and pepper.
Arrange watercress, beets, rhubarb, and orange segments on 6 plates. Sprinkle with feta and drizzle with dressing. Garnish with chervil leaves, if desired, and serve.
Rhubarb Sour Cream Snack Cake with Walnut Streusel
Per Serving: 326 Calories, 9.8 g Fat,(4.9 Sat Fat), 2.7 g Fiber, 291 mg Sodium
3 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
1 cup whole wheat flour (about 4 3/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375°.
To prepare cake, combine rhubarb and 2 tablespoons flour in a medium bowl; toss well to coat.
Place brown sugar and 5 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream, rind, and vanilla; beat until well combined.
Lightly spoon 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Fold in rhubarb mixture. Spread batter into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.
To prepare streusel, combine turbinado sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry blender or 2 forks until mixture is crumbly; stir in nuts. Sprinkle streusel evenly over batter.
Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.