I have vivid memories of rhubarb plants growing wild – almost like weeds – around my grandparents’ farm in rural Montana when I was a kid. Throughout the month of June, we’d run outside, my grandma close behind with a paring knife to slice off a few stalks, which we’d proceed to dunk in our own personal bowls of sugar. Each bite was crunchier and sweeter than the last – and tasted like summer.
Now, I know rhubarb as an often-pricey item at farmer’s markets. I use it sparingly, knowing those bright-red stalks are fleeting, but it’s always a treat. While technically a vegetable, rhubarb is most commonly used in the kitchen as a fruit, for sweet desserts and jams (that taste a little more sophisticated than the sugar-coated variety of my childhood). However, there are plenty of ways to get more creative with cooking rhubarb, as these chefs and foodies prove. Try these ideas to get your fill of this tart veggie while you can.
Make rhubarb syrup for cocktails.
You can infuse simple syrup with rhubarb to add summer flavor to cocktails and mocktails. To make it, combine ¾ cup washed and cubed rhubarb stalks with 1 cup water, 1 cup white sugar and 1 split vanilla bean in a saucepan, says Greg Giffie of Davidson Restaurant Group. Bring to a boil while stirring occasionally, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool overnight, then strain and store in an airtight container. You can add about ½ ounce of the rhubarb syrup to drinks like a French 75 in place of simple syrup.
Add sweetness to bacon jam.
Start with a basic bacon jam recipe (which serves as an incredible topping for corn fritters or as a sandwich spread), but add in about 1½ cups of diced rhubarb along with the onion, says Bryan Elam, executive chef at Wayfarer Restaurant in Cannon Beach, Oregon (where rhubarb grows abundant!).
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Or make rhubarb jam.
Ever had a PB&J with rhubarb jam? The sweet-tart combo paired with salty peanut butter hits the spot. You can whip up an easy batch by following this recipe for strawberry freezer jam, but swapping in cooked rhubarb instead.
Or take a page from Castle Hot Springs’ Executive Chef Christopher Brugman’s book and make an elevated version: Swiss chard rhubarb jam. To make it, combine 1 pound peeled and diced rhubarb stalks, 1 pound diced Swiss chard stems, 2 cups sugar, ⅓ cup water, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and the zest and juice of two tangerines in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until jam coats the back of a spoon.
Bake up a treat.
Rhubarb for breakfast? Why not! This tasty recipe for strawberry-rhubarb scones combines the tartness of rhubarb with sweet strawberries, resulting in a buttery, crumbly treat that pairs perfectly with a mid-morning cup of coffee. You can make it from pantry staples plus a little low-fat buttermilk, which adds a creamy richness.
See more: Strawberry-Rhubarb Angel Food Cake
Roast for a salad.
Not all rhubarb recipes have to be dessert-like. Dewey Losasso, corporate executive chef with Bill Hansen Catering in Coconut Grove, Florida, suggests making roasted rhubarb to add to savory salads this summer. To make it, mix together diced rhubarb with honey, diced Serrano chiles and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Then roast the rhubarb in a 400-degree oven for 6 minutes. After the roasted rhubarb has cooled, toss it with greens, cashews, sunflower seeds, salt and pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.
Toss it into a smoothie.
While not an abundant source of nutrients, rhubarb is rich in vitamin K1, which is thought to play a role in helping with blood clotting, heart health and bone health. It’s also rich in fiber, one reason that Minneapolis-based holistic health coach Nellie Brau of Haus of Ojas likes adding chopped frozen rhubarb to her smoothies. Get her recipe for a rhubarb-rose smoothie here.
Bake a rhubarb pie.
You can’t go wrong when putting rhubarb into a pastry crust. Christopher Grossman, executive chef with the forthcoming The Chastain in Atlanta, knows this first-hand – that’s why he’s planning to add his grandmother’s rhubarb pie recipe to the menu when the restaurant opens this summer.
“When I was young, rhubarb was too tart; but now, it is that tartness that I crave and want in a rhubarb pie,” he says.
To make it, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a pan with your favorite (unbaked) pie crust. Then place 3 cups of chopped rhubarb on top of the crust. To make the filling, blend together 1½ cups sugar, 3 tablespoons tapioca flour, ½ teaspoon nutmeg, 1 tablespoon butter and 2 eggs. Pour the filling over the rhubarb to fill the crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 30 minutes. (Pro tip: If you’re new to rhubarb, swap 25% of the rhubarb for strawberries to add more sweetness, says Grossman.)
What’s your favorite way to cook with rhubarb? Let us know in the comments!