Yes, the leaves are poisonous and the raw stalks are practically inedible because they are so sour… sounds unappealing, but rhubarb is delicious, versatile and packed with health benefits. All good things take a little bit of work, and rhubarb is no different!
Laura Ingalls Wilder may have referred to rhubarb as the “pie plant”, but there is so much more to this vegetable relative of buckwheat than just dousing it in sugar and dumping into a pie shell (though that is delicious too!).
Typically available from late spring through early summer, rhubarb is one of the few perennial plants that thrives in cooler climates and doesn’t require a green thumb to maintain! To store rhubarb, cut all of the leaves away from the stalk (also called petioles) and keep in the refrigerator for two to three weeks in sealed plastic bags.
Traditionally used in Chinese, medieval European and Arabic medicine as a potent laxative, new research suggests rhubarb extract may help to relieve hot flashes in those going through menopause (1). Rich in antioxidants like lindleyin and stilbenes, rhubarb is also a great source of potassium, vitamin C and dietary fibre. 1 cup of raw rhubarb contains over 100 mg of calcium too!
If you are blessed with a rhubarb plant (or with a generous neighbour who has one), you inevitably end up with more rhubarb than you know what to do with! Here are some ideas, both savoury and sweet, for using up all of that rhubarb:
- old school: raw rhubarb dipped in white sugar. Perhaps not the healthiest, but brings back lots of childhood memories!
- perfect-as-it-is classic: is there anything better than rhubarb and strawberry crisp?
- creative pickles: amazing served on a cheese plate, simply pour heated vinegar-sugar-salt-spice “brine” over trimmed rhubarb stalks and let sit in jars in the fridge for a few days.
- snack food: dried rhubarb leather is an easy way to use up rhubarb, just puree cooled rhubarb-sugar-water mixture and bake in a low-heat oven.
- easy dessert: stew with a bit of sugar and a splash of rosewater, and spoon over Greek yogurt sprinkled with pistachios.
- spicy chutney: sweet, spicy and tart, cooking rhubarb with spices and dried fruit (like apricots and cherries) makes a great glaze or topping for grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin.
For any additional rhubarb you may have leftover, cut up, blanch and freeze – you can have delicious rhubarb all year-round!
Roasted Rhubarb and Beet Salad
This recipe is inspired by the amazing Slow Roasted Heirloom Beets at Charcut in Calgary and a favourite vinaigrette from UK chef Yotam Ottolenghi (he wrote the vegetarian cookbook, Plenty). The combination of earthy beets and sweet/tart rhubarb is great with the bitter greens… and goat cheese makes everything better! Terrific as a side salad or starter, top with grilled chicken or salmon to make a satisfying meal.
- 4 – 5 large beets
- 2 cups 1/2-inch pieces fresh rhubarb
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ¾ tbsp pomegranate molasses*
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 8 cups mixed baby greens (can reserve beets greens, if usable)
- 80 g crumbled goat cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- ¼ cup parsley, coarsely chopped
- Heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Rinse the beets and trim off any leafy tops (reserve for salad, if using). Wrap completely in aluminum foil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and cracked pepper; place in the oven.
- Roast beets until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 40 – 80 minutes, depending on size. [They will cook within 30 minutes if you quarter them!]. Set aside to cool, then peel (unless you gave them a good scrub – we keep the skin on!) and cut into a rough 1-inch dice. Keep the oven on.
- Toss rhubarb with sugar in a medium bowl until well coated; let stand, stirring once or twice, for about 10 minutes. Spread in an even layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast until just beginning to soften, about 5 – 8 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, molasses, maple syrup, oil, mustard, coriander, and allspice; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the onion, set aside for a few minutes to soften.
- In a large bowl, add vinaigrette to greens and toss to coat; you may have some vinaigrette leftover. Divide the greens among 4 plates. Top with the beets, rhubarb, goat cheese, walnuts and sprinkle of parsley. Enjoy!
* You can find pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern and Italian markets. It has an amazing tart flavour. If you cannot find it, substitute 1 tsp honey + 2 tsp lemon juice.
- Hasper I, et al. Long-term efficacy and safety of the special extract ERr 731 of Rheum rhaponticum in perimenopausal women with menopausal symptoms. Menopause 2009; 16:117-31.