Rhubarb: Oh, I Don’t Know
It is all too common for consumers to be confused and bewildered by the uncommon. In particular, I am referring to fruits and vegetables considered unique and somewhat odd by U.S. standards, like the chayote, durian, and Chinese artichokes, which look a bit like maggots. But a common vegetable, that everyone seems to know of, which continues to puzzle home chefs, as well as American diners, is rhubarb. For most people, the practical application of rhubarb doesn’t extend far beyond rhubarb pie (a usually starchy, over-sugared, preparation). But rhubarb, while not inherently delicious, has other, more varied, applications that will intrigue, if not delight, and guess what, it is in season right now.
Rhubarb has its origins in ancient China, where it was cultivated for a number of medicinal purposes. Rhubarb is known for its beneficial effects on the digestive system and is still used as a strong laxative (so consume with caution). Rhubarb’s crisp sour stalks are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber and calcium, but before going any further, it should be noted that rhubarb, while tart and nutritious, is toxic to humans if the top leaves are consumed (only eat the red stalks, or petioles). While considered a vegetable in the U.S., in 1947 rhubarb was granted an identity change and is now widely considered a fruit, largely because that is how it is utilized. Another bit of trivia, the word rhubarb is customarily used by stage actors talking quietly to one another to simulate real conversation, since it contains no harsh sounding consonants and is hard to detect (“rhubarb, rhubarb…. rhubarb!”).
Many people (myself included) find themselves somewhat turned off by rhubarb and the preparation of rhubarb, largely because the overwhelming tartness of the plant requires the use of untold amounts of sugar to make it palatable. There is basically no getting around this fact, unless you opt for another, more natural sweetener (honey, maple syrup, etc). But there are a few more savory applications for rhubarb and ways to extract the most tart, herbaceous, flavor without candying the crap out of it. Here are a few standout recipes for rhubarb that may interest the intrepid, and curious cook:
Do you have any favorite rhubarb recipes, or do you choose to ignore this fruit/vegetable in favor of other, more versatile ingredients?