17 March 2015

In Season: Rhubarb

rhubarb2By Mona Johnson

Article originally published in The Oregonian’s FoodDay section.

Poor rhubarb must have an identity complex. It’s not easy being a vegetable that parades as a fruit, looks like scarlet celery and tastes like tart lemons, but that’s just how rhubarb rolls.

As one of the true harbingers of spring in the Pacific Northwest, rhubarb’s first appearance at the farmers market is highly anticipated. Pick out firm, glossy stalks in colors ranging from deep crimson to rosy pink to light green.

Be warned though: No matter how lovely they look, never eat the chard-like leaves of rhubarb. They contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous when ingested.

Rhubarb is also known as “pie plant” and indeed, recipes most often play up the fruity side of the stalk. In its natural state, rhubarb tastes quite sour and astringent, so don’t be surprised at how much sugar it takes to mellow these tart stalks into sweet submission. Rhubarb makes wonderful compotes, jams, sorbets, muffins and crumbles. It would be perfect in a light and lovely spring fool and would also make a distinctive shortcake. As far as pies go, strawberry rhubarb is as classic as it is delicious.

To play up the savory side of this vegetable, try making a tangy sauce or chutney to complement richer dishes starring pork or salmon. Roasted rhubarb would make a nice addition to a spring salad, perhaps with some creamy goat cheese. And, this being Portland, you could also pickle it.