GreenChic / Jennifer Spaide
The original Sweet-Tart: Rhubarb
Q: What vegetable is most commonly served in dessert form? A: Rhubarb!
Wait, back up ... a vegetable? Yes. This herbaceous perennial plant is a member of the buckwheat family and was originally classified as a vegetable. At some point along the way, a higher up decided that it should be categorized with fruits since it was most commonly used with them. But I'm going old school and sticking with veggie.
Originating in parts of Asian, the oldest records of rhubarb date back to 2700 BC where it was cultivated for medicinal purposes and written about in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic, an ancient text on Chinese herbology. The Chinese variety of rhubarb is different from the garden variety we find at our local grocer or farm stand. While the Chinese used the stalks and roots of this plant exclusively as an herbal remedy, the British and Americans made the European varieties popular as a food in the 18th when sugar was readily available and affordable.
Rhubarb is used as a diuretic and laxative, a purgative to dispel intestinal worms, and for its overall balancing effect on the digestive system. It is also used to lower cholesterol, detoxify the liver, promote blood circulation, and reduce inflammation and auto-immune reactions. When ground up into a paste and applied topically to cuts or scraps, rhubarb helps kill staph bacteria and prevent infection. Rhubarb is a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber and potassium. Research is also showing that it is a good source of cancer-fighting polyphenols and antioxidants.
Growing up in Maine, my sisters and I used to gnaw on stalks of rhubarb fresh from the garden. But I do not recommend trying this at home. Fresh rhubarb is incredibly tart and fibrous, hence why you usually find it drowned in sugar and cooked. Raw is not the way to go with this veggie. And nature certainly knew what it was doing as cooked rhubarb releases up to 1.5 times as many antioxidants as when it's consumed in raw form. Here is a basic recipe for baked rhubarb, along with some fresh ways to use it.
Basic Rhubarb Sauce: Combine 4 cups chopped rhubarb, 2 cups water, ¼ cup honey, 1" peeled and chopped ginger, and the zest and juice of 1 orange, in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes. The rhubarb will completely break down and the mixture will be a thick sauce consistency. Remove sauce from heat, let cool, then puree. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Keep in mind this rhubarb sauce is not your super sweet. It's still got some good tang to it, which makes it very versatile. You can add some of this sauce to your lemonade or iced tea for a refreshing twist; spoon it over vanilla ice cream; combine with orange juice, tequila and orange liquor for, what I like to call, a Rusty RhuBarb; combine with Dijon mustard as an accompaniment to grilled chicken; use as a glaze for grilled meats.
It's time to get your pucker on and eat more rhubarb!
Jennifer Spaide received her master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. She is a mom, personal chef and freelance writer residing in New Canaan. As Founder of GreenChic, Jennifer is dedicated to inspiring individuals to get fresh in the kitchen and eat their way to a healthy life. You can contact Jennifer at 203-247-2002 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.thegreenchiclife.com to learn more.