The upside of all the rain we’ve had this past month is that the rhubarb in my yard is phenomenal this year. The leaves are two feet across and the stalks are two feet high and as thick as I have ever seen them. They are sweeter than ever before — just delicious!
That rhubarb began with my dad in 1970. I was in college and he was expanding his garden. We went on a hunt to find new fruits and vegetables to add. We came home with strawberries, a blueberry bush, some asparagus, potatoes, beets, and 12 rhubarb plants. There was really no place for the rhubarb, so we planted them along a long fence that ran right next to the street we lived beside — Route 9 — now a major thoroughfare, but more like a main street when I was a kid. The sun shone constantly, but the fence provided some shade for the leaves.
Surprisingly, the plants flourished. Soon my dad had to split them and plant more, and eventually there was a 50-foot row of large, strong rhubarb plants. It was more rhubarb than we could use in a year, so in early spring, we found that we had a lot of friends stopping by because they knew they would go home with enough rhubarb for a pie or two.
During that time, I learned to make strawberry rhubarb jam, and my dad and I experimented with pies and tarts, barbecue sauces and more. Pickled rhubarb was an epic fail, but the barbecue sauce was amazing. Rhubarb muffins and rhubarb pancakes were favorites.
When my parents sold their house in 1989, my dad transplanted several of those plants into my backyard where, 30 years later, they are still flourishing. This year has been, by far, one of the best ever. His advice — “water, water and water some more” — apparently is true.
Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, though most often it is used as a fruit. It is also packed with health-giving nutrients. Rhubarb is loaded with vitamin K, which is good for bones and blood. It also helps aid digestion and is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. In addition, rhubarb is very high in antioxidants, which may help to stave off disorders like Alzheimer’s and perhaps stroke, as was shown in one study. Another study showed that antioxidant activity was particularly high in rhubarb because it contains a high amount of quercetin, which is now a popular supplement. Rhubarb is also good for people with IBS issues.
All in all, if you can limit the amount of sugar you add, rhubarb is an amazing food that we should all be eating. Have a rhubarb-filled meal and enjoy in good health!
Cold Rhubarb Soup (Dairy, Pareve)
1 to 1-1/2 lbs. rhubarb
2/3 to 1-1/3 cup sugar, to taste
3 to 4 cups water
1/3 cup grenadine syrup, more or less to taste
Optional: 1 stalk lemon grass
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one lime
1/2 to 1 tsp. finely grated ginger
1 piece vanilla bean, 1 inch
1 to 2 cups pomegranate juice, a bit more or less, to taste
1 pint strawberries, thinly sliced
8 mint sprigs
Optional: sour crème, crème fraiche, or yogurt for garnishing a dairy version
Cut the rhubarb into small pieces. Place in a large pot and add the sugar, water and grenadine syrup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes until the rhubarb is very soft. Remove from heat.
While the soup is cooking, zest the lemon and lime and place the zests in a small bowl. Cut the lemon grass into inch-long pieces.
Place the lemon grass, vanilla bean, lemon and lime zest, and grated ginger in a piece of cheesecloth and tie closed. Add the sachet to the soup and let the soup sit for about 2 hours as it cools and the flavors infuse from the sachet. Taste and adjust the flavors. You may want to add a splash of lemon or lime juice if you like a tart flavor
Remove the bag of zests from the soup and whisk vigorously to break up the rhubarb. Hull and slice the berries and garnish with the berries and mint sprigs and, if dairy, sour cream, etc. Serves 4 to 6.
Salmon with Blood Orange, Rhubarb and Pomegranate Sauce (Pareve)
3 lbs. salmon fillet
3 blood oranges or navel oranges (blood oranges will give a less sweet sauce)
2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cups, finely chopped sweet or red onion
1 to 2 Tbsp. honey
1 pound rhubarb, peeled and sliced
3/4 to 1 cup pomegranate juice
3/4 to 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
Peel a long strip of orange zest, or several small ones, to equal about 5 or 6 inches long and about an inch wide. Place in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover and bring to a boil for 30 to 60 seconds. Drain, rinse and set the zest on a paper towel to dry. Peel 2 of the blood or navel oranges and remove all the white pith. Over a bowl, cut each orange in half across the segments, and then break up the sections. Place the pieces in the bowl with any juice that has squeezed from the oranges as you worked with them. Finely mince the dried zest and place in a smaller bowl. Reserve one orange for garnish.
Heat a large heavy skillet over low heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the honey and continue to cook the onions until they are light golden brown and very soft, about 6 to 7 minutes over low heat. Stir often to prevent sticking. Add half of the orange sections and half the juice to the onions and cook until the liquid evaporates and the onions are a deep golden color, about 5 to 7 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, place the chopped rhubarb in a small saucepan with the pomegranate juice and the remaining half of the orange sections and the juice. Bring to a boil, mashing the orange sections with a fork to release more juice and simmer until slightly reduced and the rhubarb is very soft, 10 to 20 minutes.
Add the rhubarb mixture to the onions and stir. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and taste to adjust seasonings, adding more honey, lemon or orange juice as needed to attain the right balance of sweet/tart.
Cook the salmon as desired. You can roast it with simple salt, pepper and bit of olive oil, poach it in some orange and grapefruit juice or broil it with some olive oil or butter.
Slice the remaining orange in thin slices. Set aside. Place the cooked salmon on a large platter, and drizzle some of the sauce over the fish. Pass the remaining sauce in a gravy boat. Garnish with orange slices. Serves 6 to 8.
Red Berry Rhubarb Crisp
1 to 2 lbs. rhubarb
1 qt. strawberries, about 2 full cups, halved
2 pints raspberries
4 Tbsp. flour
2/3 to 1 cup sugar
2 to 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup unbleached or GF flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1-1/2 to 2 sticks butter or pareve, trans-fat-free margarine, chilled, cut into small pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal (NOT instant)
2/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans
Optional: blueberries and blackberries
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Toast at 350 degrees for about 5 to 7 minutes, just until fragrant. Don’t let them burn. Allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the flour, sugars, and ground almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to blend. Add the pieces of butter or margarine and pulse until small pea-sized pieces form. Add the oatmeal and pulse just to blend. Pinch a bit of the mixture; it should hold together in little clumps. If it does not, add a bit more margarine or butter and pulse to blend. If it is too sticky, add more almonds or oatmeal. Remove from the processor and add the toasted nuts. Mix with a spoon to blend.
Pour the crumble mixture onto the lined baking sheet and pinch small pieces together (I use both hands and I pinch quickly all over the mixture). Continue pinching until most of the mixture is in little clumps.
Cut the rhubarb into half inch pieces. Toss with the berries, sugar and flour. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and pour into a 3-qt. glass baking casserole dish.
Transfer the crumble topping evenly onto the fruit and place in the oven. Bake until deep, golden brown, about 30 to 50 minutes, depending on your oven. A convection oven will bake much faster. Watch carefully so as not to burn. If it gets too dark, cover with foil until the filling is bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 to 20 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream, yogurt, non-dairy ice cream, or whipped cream. Serves 10+.