I’m going to conclude this spring salad series with a tart twist on the classic spinach strawberry salad by adding strawberry’s favorite foil: rhubarb.
Growing up, my main experience with rhubarb involved eating my mom’s super-yummy, super-sweet strawberry-rhubarb jam. In other words, my experience equaled an encounter with serious sugar, to the point where if I hadn’t seen my mom add rhubarb to the jam, I never would’ve known it was in there.
Now, I’m not criticizing my mom’s methods. Personally, I’m a big fan of incredibly sweetened rhubarb. But I know that others are not. My mother-in-law, for instance, is a purist, preferring her rhubarb in its sharp, natural form. And the other day, Payten Sikma, the nine-year-old daughter of one of our customers, bit into a raw stalk of rhubarb with such relish that later I tried it myself. I followed the same rule we have for our kids—three bites before you decide—and by the third bite, I have to say I still prefer my rhubarb tamed by the sugar bowl.
This salad is a bit of in between the two extremes. The strawberry’s natural sweetness balances the rhubarb’s bite, the spinach provides a relatively neutral backdrop, and the dressing pulls everything together for a refreshing spring side salad.
Begin by trimming and slicing the rhubarb, then placing it in a medium saucepan. Add your sugar—not too much, just a quarter cup—and pour in just enough water to cover the rhubarb. Stir the sugar in and bring the whole mixture to a gentle simmer.
The next part is very important—do not overcook the rhubarb! The first time I tried this I ended up with rhubarb mush, perfect for an ice cream topping but not so much for a salad. Simmer for about 1 minute, test it, and if you think it needs a little more time, give it a minute more. Use a slotted spoon to remove the rhubarb and set it aside to cool.
Next, add white wine vinegar to the remaining rhubarb liquid and cook for about 20 minutes until the liquid’s been reduced to about 1 cup. (Note: This dressing does require a bit more time than most, but it’s worth it!) Set the liquid aside to cool.
While you’re waiting, place about a cup of baby spinach on each salad plate. Top each bed of greens with sliced strawberries and the cooled rhubarb.
Return to your rhubarb liquid (aka dressing base). Pour ¼ cup of the liquid into a jar, then add vegetable oil, a few tablespoons of finely diced onion, a few tablespoons chopped fresh mint, and a little bit of salt. Shake vigorously, then drizzle a little bit on each salad. You can leave this salad as is at this point, or garnish with fresh mint leaves.
I recommend pairing this salad with soup and a crusty bread for a complete meal, or serve it as a precursor to a late spring entrée straight from the grill: chicken, fish, pork chops, or burgers. And you may as well add a few stalks of raw rhubarb to the mix–just in case someone at the table is a true culinary adventurer.
What’s your favorite way to eat rhubarb?
Photographs and Food Styling: Anne Kingma