Get it before it's gone

By Kat Kinsman
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: Rhubarb Is the Best Vegetable You Can Eat Right Now
Credit: Photo by James Tse via Getty Images

When I see rhubarb at the market, I nab as much of it as I can. I know I'm a sucker for produce that's available hyper-seasonally and painfully briefly, so I make sure to get my fill every spring, starting 'round about now. C'mon, rhubarb is also called "pie plant." It's just begging to be made into, well, pies, but it's also a natural fit with plenty of other breakfast foods. Rhubarb is the perfect swirl-in for yogurt parfaits, hot cereals, and overnight oats. Rhubarb's tangy flavor is brilliantly balanced in sweet muffins, quick breads, and coffee cakes. As a sweet-tart preserve, rhubarb is hard to beat. But it's gotta be prepped and cooked first.

OK technically, rhubarb can be eaten raw, but I wouldn't really recommend it. It's sour as hell, though maybe that's your bag. But the non-negotiable part: The leaves have gotta go. Don't even try a nibble, and make sure you toss them somewhere that no kids or pets can get to them. Rhubarb leaves are toxic (oxalic acid if you're keeping score), so if you encounter any, trim them off and wash the stalks as soon as you can.

Depending on when and how the rhubarb was grown, it might need a little extra TLC before it's ready to eat. Look for firm, snappable stalks with no obvious gouges or bruises. If the stalks seem a little tough, give them the once-over with a vegetable peeler. From here, you have options.

If you're tossing rhubarb into a preparation where sweetness already abounds—say maybe a smoothie—slice the stalks thinly, simmer the pieces in a little water for about five minutes, and pop them into the blender with your other ingredients.

Let's say that you're looking to add some pizzaz to a bland-ish base, like hot or cold oatmeal or a bowl of yogurt. Slice chunks of rhubarb onto a baking sheet, toss them with honey or sugar, and roast in a 450°F oven for about five minutes, or until sufficiently softened. Let the rhubarb cool—or don't—and spoon it in. Those cooked rhubarb pieces make great add-ins for recipes that require further baking, too.

And plenty of people find rhubarb synonymous with strawberries. The two are often paired because they're seasonally aligned and flavor complement like crazy, but just this once, consider giving rhubarb a go solo. Recipes for rhubarb preserves aren't hard to find, but for a quick and dirty version, just trim and chop a few rhubarb stalks and simmer the pieces in a saucepan with sugar, (around a cup per pound), enough water to cover it, and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Cook the rhubarb down to the consistency you'd like, and even puree it once it's cooled. Consider adding ginger, cloves, or other spices, adding honey, or swapping the water with orange juice.

Once you've found your favorite flavor balance, you can spoon the rhubarb onto toast, pastries, and cakes as is, drizzle it into a flute and top it with bubbles (heck yeah, rhubarb bellini), store it in a sealed jar in the fridge, or freeze it for later in the cruelly rhubarb-free year. Easy as pie.