Cooking In Season: Rhubarb
Common uses for rhubarb begin with poaching in light syrup or stewing with other fruits. We typically eat rhubarb in dessert dishes and think of it more as a fruit, but rhubarb is actually a vegetable. Rhubarb’s long, red stalks require some serious sweetness to balance their tartness, so dessert is a logical option.
Only the stems of rhubarb are edible. The leaves, while not suited for human consumption, contain sodium oxalate, a chemical that safely destroys ozone depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), giving the deep green leaves a purpose beyond photosynthesis. It has even been reported that an abundance of this plant could help to reduce our carbon footprint. Rhubarb leaves are safe to add to the compost heap.
What puts many people off rhubarb is boiling it on top of the stove. Stove-top cooking changes the texture, turning the firm cut-up chunks into unappetizing mush. Instead, wash a handful of rhubarb stalks, but don’t dry them. Chop the stalks into 1 inch / 2.5 cm pieces and place in a casserole dish without the lid. Add a big scoop of sugar or more to taste and some grated orange peel. Stir to coat the rhubarb. Cook in the oven on a low heat, about 300°F/150°C, for an hour. The rhubarb chunks will stay whole and be bathed in a thickish sauce.
Rhubarb should be firm, like celery, not limp. Store in the refrigerator but use as soon as possible; it does not improve with age.