How To Cook With Rhubarb: Savory And Sweet Recipes

Discover new ways to cook with rhubarb

April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.

Rhubarb is often one of those misunderstood vegetables.

Yes, rhubarb is indeed a vegetable, even though it is often treated as a fruit and incorporated into sweet desserts. No wonder it's commonly referred to as "pieplant" in certain parts of the U.S.

Yet, though the tart fuchsia stalks practically beg to be diced and gently simmered into jam or baked into a perfectly latticed pie, they actually stand up in many savory dishes due to their bright, astringent flavor.

The ravishing celery-like stalks are delicious any way you cook them, but avoid their mildly toxic leafy tops, for obvious reasons. And don't get too caught up on what's on the outside. Though we commonly associate the stalks with having that deep-pink-verging-on-red hue, their color can range from blush to even pale green. As far as rhubarb is concerned, color and sweetness have very little to do with one another.

If you want to take rhubarb to the savory side, try topping fried rice with pickled rhubarb (see the recipe). I pickle the rhubarb in a cold brine of rice vinegar, mustard seeds and black peppercorns. Why cold? It helps to retain the stalks' shape since the vegetable can quickly turn mushy when it's exposed to sugar and heat. After a day or two in the brine, the rhubarb takes on the flavors of the rice vinegar and aromatics. It then gets thinly sliced and can be eaten on its own or as a tangy condiment, like it does here.

The fried rice is quickly cooked with egg, shrimp and a good sprinkling of cilantro, scallion and sesame seeds. Topping it with the pickled rhubarb not only makes the dish pop but gives it a hit of acidity and texture. Both of these elements pair well with the oily clumps of fried rice goodness, cutting through the fat.

On the other side of the coin, I didn't totally ignore rhubarb's potential in the baking realm, putting the rhubarb into a pound cake that's lightly scented with orange zest and cardamom (see the recipe). A dollop of fragrant black tea-infused cream takes the dessert from ordinary to extraordinary.

Pound for pound, it's exactly what we want for dessert this spring.