As spring turns to summer, you’ll find rhubarb lovers hunting down the pink and green stems in the produce aisle. Whether you eagerly anticipate rhubarb season each year or you’re exploring uncharted territory, it’s easy to fall for its sweet-tart flavour. Master the basics of prepping this seasonal treat, and then get inspired by a variety of easy recipes.
Rhubarb is a vegetable that thinks it’s a fruit, so we are used to enjoying it in sweet desserts. In the produce department, look for firm, slender stalks without blemishes, and double-check the trimmed ends before buying. If the cut end of a rhubarb stalk is dry, it’s not fresh.
Rhubarb stalks come in a beautiful range of spring greens, pearly pinks and crimson reds (sometimes with all these colours on one stalk), but with some varieties, a green stalk means a slightly tarter flavour. If you can only find stalks on the greener end, you can always add extra sweetness to adjust the sweet-tart balance to your liking.
- Remove and discard the leaves. You need to prep this vegetable carefully. While the stalks are safe to eat, the leaves contain poisonous oxalic acid and can cause illness even in small quantities.
- Prepare the stalks. Rinse and pat dry, then slice or chop as called for by your recipe. Tip: Do a taste test to see how tart the bounty is.
- Store. Once leaves are removed, stalks are rinsed and the ends trimmed, wrap in a damp paper towel to keep the stalks from drying out. Place in a plastic bag and store in the fridge for up to one week.
- Preserve. You can also chop rhubarb into one-inch pieces, freeze on a baking sheet, transfer to a plastic bag and keep it in the freezer. You’ll be ready to add summery flavour to recipes when the vegetable isn’t in season.
- Pickle. Since rhubarb has a relatively short growing season, pickling a few stalks is a great way to extend its use year-round. Pair it with spices like whole peppercorns, bay leaves, whole cloves, star anise, mustard seeds or peeled and sliced fresh ginger to bring out the nuances in its flavour profile. Use rhubarb pickles as an accompaniment to baked, grilled or fried fish in place of squeezing a lemon or lime, or as an accent on a cheeseboard.
Try one of our ideas below to enjoy this year’s bounty, and you might just find yourself eagerly awaiting next year’s harvest.
- Rhubarb’s distinctive tartness plays well with sweet, spicy and creamy tastes. Timeless pairings include strawberries, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, yogourt and custard.
- Rhubarb is often referred to as the “pie plant,” so Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie really is the classic recipe. Tucked into a flaky crust, rhubarb and strawberries make a perfectly balanced sweet-tart filling that’s bursting with seasonal flavours.
- This fruit and vegetable pairing is equally lovely against the assertiveness of ground ginger in Strawberry-Rhubarb & Ginger Crisp,. Using granola for the topping makes prep work a snap.
- In Rhubarb Banana Fool (a traditional English dessert of stewed, puréed fruit folded into whipped cream), rhubarb stands up to the tropical notes of banana and toasted coconut, and cuts through the richness of the cream, so the dessert feels light and summery.
- If you don’t have a recipe in mind or need to use up your stems, turn them into rhubarb purée by simply cooking the stalks with some water and sugar to taste. Purée the cooked mixture, strain if desired, and you’ll have a pretty pink sauce that’s delicious poured over vanilla ice cream, hot cereal or stirred into smoothies and yogourt.
- Just as you’d use lemon to brighten meat or poultry recipes, you can count on rhubarb’s slightly sour notes to perk up main dishes. You won’t need any convincing to try the sour-sweet-salty combo in Rhubarb, Bourbon & Bacon Jam. Another creative option: sub rhubarb for tomato in homemade barbecue sauce for a lighter, zestier take on the condiment.
- Add rhubarb purée to perk up a classic base of lime juice, orange liqueur and tequila in a Strawberry-Rhubarb Margarita. Or add a fresh spin — and gorgeous colour — to a summertime favourite by making rhubarb-infused lemonade.
- You can enjoy rhubarb in milkshakes, too! First, make a rhubarb purée (as directed above). In a blender, mix a cup and a half of the purée with one pint of vanilla or strawberry ice cream and a few tablespoons of milk, depending on how thick you’d like your shake.