Let me start off by saying that I don’t really “get” rhubarb. Perhaps it’s that I find the typical uses for it rather predictable, or that more often than not it’s accompanied by massive amounts of white sugar to offset the natural sourness. What is the point of trying to disguise the flavour of a vegetable (yes, it’s a vegetable) just so it’s palatable? Why make rhubarb something it’s not?
This got me to thinking about a few things. First, I needed to get over my rhubarb trepidation and lack of inspiration. I was not about to go make jam for heaven’s sake. And I needed to come up with a unique way to cook the stuff, because rhubarb has been stewed on the stove, drowning in sugar, for centuries. Knowing I was heading to the cottage for the weekend, thoughts of bonfires and grilling everything edible began to percolate. Ah-ha! Grilled rhubarb? Is that even possible? Well, I’d never heard of it before, but that hasn’t stopped me from making anything before – in fact, it is pure motivation.
I ignored the skeptical looks from fellow family barbequers and set my rhubarb on the grill, waiting for something interesting to happen. As the heat got to working on the bright ruby stalks, I could tell they were beginning to break down on the inside (which is good, because they are rather woody plants). After a few mere minutes, the thin stalks were ready to come off the fire, lightly charred and limp. The taste was still sour, but more complex with the added smokiness. And once paired with the honey and vanilla – divine. An afterthought was the addition of freshly grated ginger. Someone get on that!
Rhubarb Rocks…your digestion!
Rhubarb is a high-fiber food, which means that it is a digestion super star.
Fiber is exclusively a plant nutrient, as plants need fiber for structural support. Animals have bones and muscles instead, so fiber is not a significant part of their composition. Increasing our dietary intake of plants in comparison to animal-based foods means an increase in our fiber intake. Makes sense, right? Countries with the most food processing and highest percentage of animal food intake (think North America in general) have the lowest consumption of dietary fiber – as little as 10-15 grams per day, whereas some African countries put us to shame with daily intakes as high as 75-100 grams! Low-fiber diets are associated with constipation, gastrointestinal disorders, diverticulosis, and colon cancer, while a high-fiber diet may very well prevent these problems.
So much of our nourishment depends on the healthy passage of food through our digestive tract. Without fiber it is impossible for digestion to take place in a balanced way. With imbalanced digestion comes the risk of poor nutrient absorption, and along with that comes compromised metabolism and inadequate health protection. The risk of most chronic diseases is lowest when whole plant foods, like a simple serving of rhubarb, are plentiful in the diet. Ideally, one should aim for at least 35 grams a day, and with a healthy, whole-foods diet, this is an easy goal to reach.
The combination of grilled rhubarb, along with the whole-grain spelt flour and oats in the cake, make this dessert a fiber-rich treat that you can feel good about.
Picking rhubarb in the garden, or the store
Look for stalks that are sturdy and strong, much like celery. Avoid limp, wilting or browning stalks.
Finding rhubarb that has been picked from the field instead of chopped is the best, as it keeps the longest (you will know it’s been chopped if the ends are blunt). The darker and deeper red coloured stalks are the sweetest.
Rhubarb will keep in the fridge, wrapped, for a couple days.
Whatever you do, do NOT eat the leaves of the rhubarb plant! Although beautiful, green, and oh-so-tempting, they are extremely high in oxalic acid, which is poisonous at such elevated levels.
The strawberry-rhubarb combo is a pretty classic one, yes, but I did want to stick to something seasonal. Plus, the strawberries in the cake work to offset, and compliment, the sourness of the rhubarb. Sweet. If you find the taste of the rhubarb too tangy (I like it that way), add more honey.
And if you are so inclined, I highly suggest tossing a few pieces of the cake on the grill too – it toasts up nicely and the slight crunchiness of the crust is another lovely contrast to the soft rhubarb and pudding-like interior of the cake itself.
Simple Strawberry Cake
1 ½ cups whole spelt flour (or other whole grain flour)
½ cup + 3 Tbsp. rolled oats
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
zest of one lemon
1 cup strawberries, chopped
½ cup nut milk (or other milk to suit you)
1 cup applesauce
3 Tbsp. ghee or coconut oil (melted)
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a cake pan with parchment paper.
2. Whisk milk, applesauce, oil, honey and chia seeds in a bowl and set aside.
3. Combine all other dry ingredients, except for strawberries, and add to wet mix.
4. Fold in strawberries in as few strokes as possible.
5. Pour the batter into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with 3 Tbsp. rolled oats. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Let cake cool completely before removing it from the pan.
7. If you are making Grilled Rhubarb with Vanilla Honey Sauce to accompany the cake, place portions of the cake on the grill right before serving. Plate cake and spoon sauce on top.
Grilled Rhubarb with Vanilla Honey Sauce
8 stalks (give or take) of fresh rhubarb
4 Tbsp. raw honey
1 Tbsp. water
1 vanilla bean
1. Preheat grill (or make a nice bonfire).
2. Wash rhubarb well and rim off tough ends. Place on the grill and cook for a few minutes, then flip each stalk after the underside begins to char.
3. Cook until the stalk is soft to the touch, it should be rather limp when you pick it up. The cooking time will likely vary according to the thickness of each stalk. Cook accordingly, watching that the thin ones do not burn!
4. While rhubarb is on the grill, prepare the sauce. Pour honey into a large bowl and whisk in water to thin. Slice a whole vanilla bean down the center, then using the tip of a knife, scrape along each half to remove the seeds. Place seeds in the bowl with the honey and whisk to combine.
5. When all the rhubarb is finished grilling, chop stalks into bite-sized chunks. Toss with honey and vanilla sauce. Serve over cake.
Source: Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkley, CA: Wiley, 2006.