So you’ve opened your Good & Fugly box and found some rhubarb in it. That’s exciting! You’re in for a treat with what you can do with this versatile vegetable. Most people know that it goes well with apples in pies, but did you know that it works well in so much more – including savoury dishes? Once you get started with rhubarb, you’re not going to want to stop using it.
Rhubarb varieties can be annual, perennial, or even year-round crops, so don’t be surprised if you see it regularly pop up in your Good & Fugly box. It’s also a crop that likes cool and mild temperatures and doesn’t tend to handle humidity, wind, or frost particularly well. For this reason, Victoria is the heartland of rhubarb production in Australia.
Cooking up a rhubarb storm
Apple and rhubarb pies are indeed delicious, and an all-time favourite way to cook up the vegetable. But it is by no means the only use. Rhubarb has an incredible tart flavour that enhances both sweet and savoury dishes. It also has a texture that can range from crisp and crunchy, to soft and smooth when stewed, meaning that it can be used to add some nice complexity to dishes. One reminder, unlike most vegetables' leaves (remember you can stirfry cauliflower greens!), don't cook with rhubarb leaves or eat them raw (see below for why).
It’s also enormously healthy, filled with Vitamin C, Vitamin K, calcium and potassium.
Here are just some surprising – but delightful – ideas to make the most of that rhubarb in your Good & Fugly box:
- Pork Chops with Rhubarb: A surprising rhubarb sauce makes these tender chops extra special – use this as an alternative to apple sauce and you may just never go back.
- Rhubarb and Honey Chicken: The sauce on this honey chicken gives it an interesting, teriyaki-like flavour.
- Spinach Salad with Rhubarb Dressing: Spinach salad is excellent with this tangy topping.
- Spring Essence Soup with Pistou: When you need a citrus element for a soup, rhubarb is an unconventional choice, but it really does work.
- Rhubarb Ketchup: Looking for an alternative to ketchup? Try converting your rhubarb into a sauce – it works everywhere that tomato sauce does and is a delight.
- Rhubarb Braises: Love ribs? You’re going to love braising them with a rhubarb-based sauce.
As you can see, rhubarb is a particularly effective ingredient in sauces, chutneys and jams. It’s also the ultimate BBQ mate, which is just perfect as we come up to BBQ season here in Australia.
Enjoy experimenting with the versatility of rhubarb, and do let us know what you come up with!
A few cautions
Every so often you’ll hear a story about a well-meaning but cooking-illiterate spouse or teenage child that nearly ends in disaster. As the story usually goes, they wanted to cook something special for the family, and saw the colourful rhubarb as a good addition to the dish. It was just lucky that the regular cook of the family checked in on them and saw that they’d thrown the leaves into a stir-fry or salad…
The problem with rhubarb leaves comes from high levels of oxalic acid found in them. While serious cases can lead to kidney failure and coma, severe effects are exceedingly rare because you need to ingest a lot (think kilos of leaves). Even so make sure that you cut away the leaves and dispose of them properly when cooking --don't eat them.
A second thing that you’ll want to know is that because there’s a lot of acidity in the stalks of the rhubarb plant (the bit that is edible), you should avoid using copper or aluminium pans when cooking it. They can become discoloured. Instead, stainless steel is the way to go.
Finally, rhubarb can be kept fresh for about a week in the fridge, but you don’t want to cling wrap it or keep it in a plastic container. The best way to keep rhubarb is to wrap the stalks in a damp towel or butcher’s paper.