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Recipe: Take rhubarb beyond pie with these summer cocktails

Shannon Kuhn
Rhubarb mojito Shannon Kuhn

Fresh-picked rhubarb from the backyard is a must-have staple for me this summer.

Some look at rhubarb and see a weed. I look at rhubarb and see a jewel, a tasty treasure. After all, its bright green leaves are some of the earliest to emerge after the long months of snow, and with our endless daylight those rosy stalks shoot up to the sky.

There is something about rhubarb that gives it an old-fashioned allure, conjuring up memories of family and the iconic pie cooling on the windowsill. Yet -- and I never thought I would say this -- there is more to rhubarb than pie. Its versatility is its finest -- but perhaps most overlooked -- trait.

From savory chutneys to frozen treats, waffles and ice cream, jams and jellies, the world of rhubarb is enormous. If you are at the farmers market or grocery store, be sure to choose fresh stalks that are firm and crisp. If you are harvesting your own crop, know that the leaves are toxic and inedible (use them instead for ground cover around your garden, to stop the growth of weeds). There are over 30 varieties of rhubarb, each differing in size and color. They range from deep crimson to light green, and each variety has its own flavor. Stringy like celery, the texture will break down during cooking, so de-stringing the stalk is not necessary.

Rhubarb makes the best cocktails: easy to prepare, tasty and refreshing. Start with a rhubarb simple syrup and keep it on hand in your fridge. Tastes best on a sunny deck with a book in hand or among friends and family.

Rhubarbarita

1 part rhubarb simple syrup
1 part lime juice
1 part tequila
salt, raw sugar and lime wedges for serving
 
Combine equal parts simple syrup, lime juice and tequila in a cocktail shaker with ice (a Mason jar will also work).
Coat the rim of your glass with your choice of coarse salt or sugar by dipping first in water, then in a shallow layer of salt or sugar.
Add ice, vigorously shake the cocktail, then strain into the glass. Garnish with a curl of lime zest or a slice of lime on the rim.
 

Rhubarb mojito

4 tablespoons rhubarb simple syrup
1 ounce white rum
½ lime
5-6 mint leaves
seltzer or club soda
 
Muddle the mint and lime in the bottom of the glass.
Add rhubarb simple syrup. Add white rum and stir to mix. Top with seltzer or club soda, add ice and stick in a rhubarb stalk (like you would a celery stalk in a bloody mary) and wedge of lime for garnish.
 

Strawberry-rhubarb Bellini

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup rhubarb stalks, cleaned and diced
1/2 cup strawberries, halved
2 tsp. fresh chopped ginger (optional)
1 bottle Prosecco
 
Combine sugar and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Add rhubarb and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.
Add strawberries and simmer for 10 more minutes. Allow mixture to chill.
Puree in a food processor until the rhubarb and strawberries form a pulpy mixture. 
Pour two tablespoons of the strawberry-rhubarb mixture into a Champagne flute and top with Prosecco. Garnish with a strawberry on the rim.
 

Rhubarb simple syrup recipe

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
 
Bring to a boil and simmer all ingredients for 20 minutes.
Strain the liquid into a bowl or mason jar. Use the excess solids on toast or in jam. Keep the simple syrup liquid in the fridge until you're ready to use it. For a variation, try adding ginger chunks or fresh-chopped basil.