Did you know you can eat rhubarb in something other than a pie or cobbler or dessert or sugary syrup?
I was in the local farmers’ market this past Wednesday and saw some gorgeous rhubarb, and it was so pretty and pinkish that I just wanted to play with it (because you CAN play with your food), but I’m really not much of a dessert eater, despite my activities at Christmastime which may point to the contrary.
Do NOT get in the way of my holiday baking. And I digress.
So there I was, facing down a gorgeous display of rhubarb. Frankly…what’s a girl to do?
Here’s a few things about rhubarb:
It is naturally very tart, sort of like a SweeTart without the sweet, but it’s not so tart that it’s all bitter and no benefit. I like to think of it as bracingly fruity. Which, yeah OK, leads naturally to its pairing with strawberries and such, but you’re talking to the girl who cooks with fruit on a regular basis, so managing a fruity taste ain’t no thing.
Even though, to keep the record straight, rhubarb is not a fruit. It is a vegetable, closely related to sorrel, which is a leaf we tend not to eat much in the US even though it’s good for you! It helps treat scurvy.
Rhubarb is a great source of calcium, if you’re looking for calcium sources that aren’t dairy.
The leaves ARE poisonous. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals. These can cause the tongue and throat to swell, preventing breathing. So while the ends of the leaves may look like adorable duck’s feet, do us all a favor and throw them away before you kill yourself, mmmkay? Thanks.
So anyway, here’s what you need.
- 2 onions, one red, one yellow. Or whatever.
- 3 cloves of garlic, or to taste
- 5 stalks of rhubarb without leaves, which worked out to about two cups when chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon summer savory OR thyme OR marjoram
- 1/2 c raisins
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 c vegetable stock, plus more as needed
- 8 (or so) Brussels sprouts, sliced thin
- 2-3 oz goat cheese
- 2 sheets of puff pastry dough, defrosted (or enough to fill whatever receptacle you’d like to cook this in)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Pull out your dough and let it defrost or, if it’s defrosted, set it on a parchment-lined baking sheet or silicone baking mat. Take a fork and dock the dough (translation: poke it repeatedly) everywhere except for the inch or so that makes the border of your dough. Docking prevents the dough from puffing with steam, so the body of this tart will stay flat but the border will puff up and be all nice and pretty.
The dough is ready. Put it aside. Some instructions recommend chilling your dough. I left mine on the counter until I was ready to use it, and it worked out fine.
Start prepping the vegetables. I cut the onions in half-moons, the garlic in wide slices and the rhubarb in simple chunks, largely because I didn’t feel like doing much chopping. What? It was getting late, I didn’t want to fuss.
Just because I heart cooking doesn’ t mean I don’t have the same frustrations and limitations, folks.
Start the onions first to get them nice and soft and sweet and on the road to golden, then add the garlic, summer savory (which I just bought a big bag of before realizing I had it growing in abundance in my garden, so be prepared to hear a lot about summer savory in the upcoming months) (p.s. I hear it’s great in the garden for guarding against the Mexican bean beetle), mustard seeds, and some salt and pepper.
Give the onions and garlic and seasonings a few minutes to mingle, then add the rhubarb and maybe another shot of some fresh-ground pepper, because I can’t help myself.
Add in the broth, honey and raisins, and let this hang out for a few minutes. Feel free to add in some more broth if needed; I certainly added more as the veggies cooked into each other, and you want the raisins to plump up while the rhubarb cooks down. Complicated, I know, with that crazy chemistry. And yet that is what happens.
Let the raisins plump, the rhubarb break down, and the onions soften until you have one lovely, balanced, silky, almost creamy mass of sweet and tart and savory goodness. It will be the consistency of a chunky jam. Let the onion/rhubarb mix cool for a few minutes; if you use a puff pastry base you want to avoid putting screaming hot food on a dough made largely of shortening. While this is cooking and cooling you could brown your Brussels sprouts in a hot pan for a minute, like I did…
…but in the interests of full disclosure, I feel compelled to tell you I made more work for myself. The sprouts were nice and crusty and delicious on the finished product, but by the end they sort of looked like brown confetti. Baking the tart in the oven baked the sprouts too, which only makes sense. So don’t brown the sprouts if you don’t feel like it, just sprinkle them on top of the onion/rhubarb mixture when the time comes, and let the oven do the work for you.
You’ve got your rolled out and docked dough. You’ve got your cooked and somewhat cooled onion and rhubarb mix. You have thinly sliced Brussels sprouts that have either been pre-browned, or not. So…now what?
Put down a layer of onion/rhubarb mix and then top it with the sprouts. Yum right from the start! When you top it with crumbled goat cheese it becomes even more of a fabulous idea, inching closer to a fabulous reality with every crumbly bit of cheese. Then put this li’l beauty right into your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, pull it out and give it a look. Rotate it if necessary, drop the oven temperature to 350°, and put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes or so until it becomes golden brown and puffy in the right places.
We served this with some grilled turnips, roasted kale and a grilled romaine salad. When you fill a puff pastry with things that aren’t cream and sugar based…well, thanks to its fat content I can’t ever say that puff pastry is good for you, but it’s not as bad for you as you might fear. And it’s a delicious, rich treat, the richness of which keeps massive eating in check. And? It’s fun!
The rhubarb makes this dish tart and silky, while the onions and garlic deliver a savory balance that we don’t often look for with rhubarb. It’s understandable why we tend to pair it with fruit–and that is, without a doubt, delicious–but there are other ways to mellow rhubarb’s bright tartness that don’t involve massive amounts of sugar.
I’ve also seen rhubarb cooked as a springtime pasta sauce (perhaps next on my playing-with-rhubarb list) and a chutney, but haven’t seen too many other examples of how to cook savory rhubarb. I’d love to hear from other rhubarb fans out there: how do you like to cook this often underappreciated vegetable?