by Sara Mead
“Um, what is that?” asks the woman next to me at the grocery store as I inspect sthe vibrant red stalks before enthusiastically shoving them into my shopping basket. “It’s rhubarb,” I say. “Do you like, make a pie with that or something?” she asks.
For some reason, people–those who even know what rhubarb is–seem to associate it with pie. And, indeed, rhubarb can play a leading role in some damn tasty pies. (If you’re into that sort of thing–I harbor an active dislike for pretty much all pies other than pizza.)
But rhubarb can be so much more than pie! Increasingly, rhubarb is becoming a common ingredient on the menus of elite restaurants, such as Grant Achatz‘ Alinea, in ways that bear little resemblance to the strawberry-rhubarb pies with which many of us are familiar. And it’s not hard to see why. Rhubarb offers a tart, complex taste that can lend nuance and layers to desserts, or tart up in savory dishes, especially chicken and meats. And it’s obvious why rhubarb appeals to chefs who think–and want you to think–about your food. In it’s natural, uncooked state, rhubarb hardly seems like a food at all–which is why I get strange looks and utter consternation from the boy at the checkout counter. There’s something almost alien seeming about it’s crimson stalks. And, of course, the leaves are deadly poisonous, which leads to all sorts of interesting meditations on nature, food, even, if one is so inclined, God.
All that said, I find few foods more delightful than the most simple preparation of rhubarb imaginable–boiled down with a bit of sugar and water to make a thick sauce. You don’t really need a recipe, per se, for this, but here’s what I did this afternoon:
*Clean 4 rhubarb stalks, cut off ends, and slice into small slices (~1/4 inch).
*Put in stock pot with 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and juice of one lemon.
*Cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the slices disintegrate when you stir with a wooden spoon. At this point, you may add a cup or so of sliced strawberries if you like. Cook a bit longer. If you added strawberries, you will probably need to mash with a potato masher.
*Eat immediately or store in refrigerator.
You can eat this on top of ice cream, or I think this best way to eat it is probably liberally spread over homemade biscuits. (Which I’ll make later this week for that express purpose.) It’s also really delicious eaten plain with a spoon, and to be honest that is probably what will happen to most of it before I get around to doing anything else with it. Of course, you can scale this up if you have access to large quantities of rhubarb (it freezes very well). Of course, if that is your situation and you are looking for a way to dispose of some of that rhubarb, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me via the ifa address in the side bar :)
btw, I’m guessing there are some pretty awesome cocktails out there involving rhubarb–possibly in combination with cilantro. Any one have any ideas.
What do you like to do with rhubarb?