Photo: Shutterstock/Jane McLoughlin
What to make of rhubarb, the odd stalklike vegetable that eats like a fruit, thanks to its extraordinarily tart flavor? Turns out, all kinds of things (besides the typical pie and jam)! This hardy, easy-care perennial is a favorite of thrifty cooks everywhere. Here are six surprising ways to love this humble plant in spring and beyond.
1. Savor spring’s first crop.
Many fruits don’t grow well in the colder climates, so those that do are especially prized. Rhubarb (deemed a fruit because of its culinary applications by the U.S. Supreme Court) thrives in the northern U.S. and in Canada with little care. According to the University of Minnesota Library, it is the first garden food that’s ready in the spring. Why not start the morning right with healthful Greek yogurt and rhubarb parfaits?
2. Meet strawberry’s best friend.
Nothing says spring like fresh strawberries—and nothing sets off their natural sweetness better than rhubarb (while thriftily stretching expensive berries at the same time). Here’s a great introduction to this combo. Take Charlene Schwartz’s pretty 13×9 flip cake to your next potluck and folks will, well, flip!
3. Team it up with vodka.
Slush mix in the freezer is the secret weapon of many a smart host. All you have to do is keep some little bottles of Sprite or 7Up on hand, and you can whip up a frosty glass of Rhubarb Lemonade Slush on a moment’s notice. It’s great for sipping on the back porch!
4. Bring it along to the summertime barbecue.
Rhubarb’s sweet-tart flavors are a dream with pork, the slightly sweet meat that pairs famously with fruit, as well as chicken, a dinnertime blank canvas. These chicken drummies with a molasses-kissed rhubarb barbecue sauce is the perfect recipe to kick off grilling season. Not ready to venture outdoors? Then bake up a big pot of R.D. Stendel-Freels’ Rhubarbecue, country-style pork ribs slathered in rhubarb sauce. Though he created the dish for campfire cooking, these ribs bake like magic in the oven.
5. Give wow-factor to burgers, dogs and store-bought condiments.
Did you know that rhubarb makes a ketchup so amazing you’d almost have to taste to believe? Quebec reader Faith McLillian cooks it up right. Pro tips: Use an immersion blender if you like a smoother ketchup. Mix the rhubarb ketchup with bottled barbecue or sweet-and-sour sauce for in instant upgrade to other meals.
6. Substitute for cranberries in satisfying fall favorites.
Fresh cranberries and rhubarb taste similar, so you can sub rhubarb into cranberry favorites. Ever since I stumbled upon porridge made overnight in the slow cooker while I sleep, I haven’t been able to get enough. My favorite version uses fresh or frozen cranberries, but I recently discovered that rhubarb is an awesome stand-in. In fact, I use even less sugar in my rhubarb porridge than I do in the cranberry. Also try rhubarb in classic muffins.
Now that you know these exciting ways to enjoy rhubarb, go to work! Be inspired by these sweet and tart sensations.