8 Unforgettable Ways to Eat and Drink Rhubarb, the Season's Loudest Vegetable

8 Unforgettable Ways to Eat and Drink Rhubarb, the Season's Loudest Vegetable

Make some noise for the most deliciously beguiling ingredient on menus everywhere.

By Jenny Adams

Everyone knows about the Bermuda Triangle's lost planes and the Golden Triangle's drug trade, but there’s a far less famous “Triangle”—the Rhubarb Triangle—and this season is the best possible time to find out what it has to offer.

The Rhubarb Triangle is a real place, located in England near West Yorkshire and Leeds, and at one time it produced 90 percent of the world’s rhubarb; nowadays the U.S. still exports some rhubarb from Europe and grows the rest on the West Coast. The rhubarb was originally grown in Siberia, but it's not just its origins that are unknown to most people. Even the most enthusiastic rhubarb-lovers tend to confuse it with a fruit because of its bright pink color and its signature tart sweetness, but rhubarb is actually a vegetable. The coolest thing about it, though, is its sound. Rhubarb grows so furiously in the sheds that you can actually hear it. 

The plant goes through what’s known as a “forcing": After an initial two years in the field, it’s placed into a dark, heated shed and the carbohydrates that the plant stores in its roots transform into a glucose. While this is all a bit scientific-sounding, the forcing is what produces that characteristically tart, sweet flavor. If you’re a fan of this pink and powerful veggie, this is definitely your season. Rhubarb is showing up on menus in drinks, desserts and even savory dishes everywhere. 

Strawberry with Rye, Basil and Rhubarb at Patina in Los Angeles 

Rhubarb is so versatile, and its ability to play with sweet or savory is why so many chefs reach for it in spring. In Los Angeles, it finds a companion in spicy rye. “As strawberries and rhubarb blossom at the same time, I wanted to create a light dessert that celebrates the classic pairing,” says pastry chef Dianne Crame. “For this dish, I boil the rhubarb with a little bit of water and cook it down with sugar and lemon juice, then puree it. I use just a small amount of sugar, so the natural flavor of the rhubarb shines and it retains its signature tanginess.” The rhubarb and strawberries are added to fresh basil and served on top of a rye crust with vanilla brown sugar ice cream.

Spring Bloom at Quattro at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, CA

Bartender Adam Chick was inspired by springtime memories of visiting his grandmother and her strawberry rhubarb pie. That nostalgia has found its way into a drink called Spring Bloom, featuring strawberry and thyme-infused Stoli vodka, Lillet Blanc, elderflower liqueur, Cointreau, and rhubarb bitters. One of the most ingenious elements of this cocktail are the ice cubes, made with Sauvignon Blanc and wild edible flowers. As the ice cubes melt, the flavor of the cocktail deepens, growing more herbal and aromatic.

Rhubarb Dessert at Lazy Bear in San Francisco 

The recipient of a Michelin star in 2016, Lazy Bear excels at playful ingredient combos, artfully executed. This season, rhubarb stars in a dish made with fermented almond milk mousse sitting on top of a blood orange and vanilla dacquoise. It’s wrapped in a hibiscus pate de fruit and served with rhubarb poached in a pink pepper and blood orange syrup, a pickled rhubarb puree, and a rhubarb and hibiscus ice, and finished with a white chocolate and buttermilk powder. You’re probably not making this one at home.

Foie Gras and Rhubarb Mousse at Presidio in Chicago

The food and beverage menus here are inspired by culinary philosophies and traditions from Northern California, and one of the most memorable creations on the current roster is the mousse made with a foie gras base and a jam-like, sugary, tart rhubarb gelee. It’s also served with red wine and fig preserves, candied hazelnuts and a side of brioche to spread it all on.

The Continental at Besaw’s in Portland, OR 

The drink list at Besaw’s was actually created by Bull in China, a Pacific Northwest barware company that frequently does cool collaborations at cocktail venues. They love unexpected flavor combinations, and The Continental is perfect proof of that. This cocktail features a cold brew coffee with a strawberry-rhubarb puree, lime juice and vodka. It’s shaken and topped with bubbly Cava.

Strawberries and Rhubarb with Foie Gras at L’Appart in New York City

“Rhubarb is a perennial plant and one of the first to be available at the spring farmers market,” offers chef Nicolas Abello, who likes to play around with this spring veggie in dishes like his sauteed foie gras with fraiche des bois (a.k.a. petite French strawberries) and rhubarb, for a splash of color and acidity.

Rhubarb Arnold Palmer at Empire Coffee + Pastry in Minneapolis

“It’s one of our most popular beverages, especially when it’s hot out,” says co-owner Chrissy Kelsch of the cafe's annual Rhubarb Arnold Palmer. Once it hits the menu, it’s a hot seller until fall. They source a fresh-squeezed lemonade from a local purveyor and brew a loose leaf Oolong Rhubarb tea. The two are combined over ice and served tall. Empire will open a second location in August.

The Chambéry at the Outerlands Bar in San Francisco

Fennel-infused Dolin Blanc Dry Vermouth and Ford’s Gin are the boozy bases of this drink, which also gets nearly an ounce of fresh rhubarb puree, lemon juice and a squirt of saltwater to tame the sweetness. It’s a guest favorite, thanks to the gorgeous pink curl of raw rhubarb on the rim.

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