What's that vegetable? The radiant rhubarb

May 23, 2011 at 3:51 PM ET

Michelle Hainer /

Rhubarb is one those ingredients that you’ve probably heard of—most likely paired with strawberry in a pie—but haven’t given much thought to. Until last year I didn’t even know what rhubarb looked like. Then a friend of mine bought some at the market and wanted to make a crisp with it. Once I tasted rhubarb, I couldn’t believe I had never cooked with it before.

Technically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but in the United States it’s also considered a fruit, thanks to a New York customs court judge who declared it as such in 1947. It sort of looks like celery, although it’s often more red than green in color and it has a tart taste, which is why it’s a perfect accompaniment to berries and other sweet fruits. Just be sure you don’t eat the leaves—they’re poisonous and are usually removed before rhubarb hits the shelves of your local grocery store or farmers market.

Speaking of farmers markets, I had been anxiously waiting for rhubarb to arrive at mine. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. When I happened upon a table brimming with rhubarb at the market last weekend, many of my fellow shoppers were stopping to snap pictures of this pretty pie add-in. I did the same, before scooping up a bunch.

I’ve used rhubarb with strawberries in both a crisp and compote, and I was interested to see how it would pair with blueberries. I found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb crumble on the blog Smitten Kitchen, and decided to make a few tweaks to it in order to incorporate blueberries and white whole wheat flour.

The result was a delightful dessert that I brought to a girls’ dinner the other night. As fruit desserts go, this one is relatively healthy, given that I used white whole wheat flour and organic blueberries. (Always choose organic when it comes to berries. Their conventional counterparts are often loaded with pesticides).  An absence of a crust—crumbles, cobblers and crisps are made without crusts—also cuts down on calories. Which means you can serve your crumble with homemade whipped cream or even ice cream. Yum!

 Blueberry Rhubarb Crumble (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Michelle Hainer /

 For the topping:

  • 1 1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • Zest of one lemon

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen organic blueberries (I used frozen)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 375°F. Prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.

Prepare filling: Toss rhubarb, blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping. Bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Get more tips and recipes for seasonal eats at Made By Michelle.