Rheum rhaponticum, Rheum x hybridum, Rheum rhubarbarum, Rheum x cultorum (culinary rhubarb; there are many other rhubarbs that aren’t used as a food) is a close relative of sorrel and belongs to the buckwheat family. Technically a vegetable, rhubarb is often thought of as a fruit. Already a staple in Scandinavian, British and Eastern European diets, it became a necessary plant for early Prairie settlers, providing the first blast of freshness and vitamin C of the year until the other garden crops were ready. So while rhubarb is often thought of as an early spring edible, it produces and produces throughout the summer. So much so that gardeners who jealously watch over their patch in May and June are happy to let anyone who wants cut stalks at will. In other words, rhubarb in July in need of rescuing with a good recipe, because by now, the novelty has worn off. Yet there’s still plenty of it to go around.
Cold rhubarb-strawberry soup is one of my favourite uses for mid-summer rhubarb (it’s great with early spring rhubarb too) because it’s a refreshing cold soup that I associate with the heat of late July and early August. It also uses up the mounds of mint that will soon flower and turn bitter. This particular vanilla- and cinnamon-scented soup is from Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad (Artisan, 2003), and makes great use of the fact that rhubarb, strawberries and mint all appear around the same time in the garden. When I’m being fancy or trying to impress, I serve the soup in martini glasses, garnished with a sprig of fresh mint as an appetizer.
Rhubarb and Strawberry Soup
1 pound (500 g) rhubarb, stalks trimmed and cut pieces
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
2 1/2 cups (675 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half
1 small cinnamon stick
12 to 16 strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon (15 mL) chopped fresh mint
Sour cream for serving
In a stainless steel pot, combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, white wine, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. (Copper, aluminum, or iron pots will be discoloured by the acidity of the soup and may affect the flavour.) Bring the soup to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft.
Remove the cinnamon and vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot with the back of a knife back. Discard the bean and the cinnamon stick.
Add half of the strawberries to the soup and set aside to cool. Pour the soup into deep bowls, garnish with the mint, the remaining strawberries and the sour cream (about 2 teaspoons /10 mL per bowl). Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 4.
Jennifer Cockrall-King (author of food and the city)