Pickled Rhubarb and a Couscous Salad

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

-It was too pretty to Instagram since I had light and wasn't cooking in the middle of the night.-

We seem to a be a nation that has no problem pickling anything. We pickle eggs and that seems strange and terrifying until you try one. We pickle asparagus knowing full well it will make your pee even worse that eating it unpickled. String beans which are then renamed to dilly beans. Cauliflower; always with curry. And recently I have discovered pickled cherries, which may very well revolutionize the Manhattan and the martini.

Pickling and preserving books are now all the rage. It seems there's always a new one every few months purporting to be the end-all, be-all cookery book for packing your pickles.

However, this vinegar-fueld enthusiasm seems to have looked over humble rhubarb. Lovingly discarded like a stuffed animal still on your adult bed out of filial duty and not because you sleep with it, rhubarb is and forever will be in most minds the "pie plant".

It rarely ever gets folded into cakes or scones, except, it seems, by me. My desire to give these garnet stalks* a bit of proper appreciation and my love of pickles could only take me down one logical route.

Pickled rhubarb is sweet, spicy, and simply put: bracing. It's a pickle-lover's pickle. A bit can likely cause the weak-willed to suck air in through their teeth after a bite and grip the table. But the flavor, the sweetness, the sour air, the tart slap, and with a spice with enough bite that it leaves marks like a bad (or good) kisser.

It's a pickle you add to salads and pair with creamy cheeses like Humboldt Fog, Taleggio, or Bucherondin.

Or a salad with feta.

For the rhubarb lover and the pickle pursuer this may be the pinnacle of spring time joy for you. The salad is a nifty way to use it outside of just opening a jar and eating it straight. Which is what I generally do, period, no remorse. The salad has feta for salt, grapes for sweet, parsley for bitter, and whole wheat couscous because that's what I had at the time and I do love Bob's Red Mill brand. Though, any sort of couscous will do nicely.

*Never mind the green ones, I have an unreasonable chromatic-bias against them.

Pickled Rhubarb
3 stalks rhubarb
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Half cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
5 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 32-ounce canning jar, with lid 

Trim the rhubarb of its leaves and stocky ends. Slice rhubarb into 2-inch long strips and place in the canning jar. Add anise, pepper flakes, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns.

Pour vinegar, salt, and sugar into a small pot and boil until clear. Pour hot sugar water over rhubarb and stir well. Screw the lid on the canning jar and place in the refrigerator. Let sit for 48 hours. Use within a month.

If you have leftover vinegar after using the pickled rhubarb, reserve it for vinaigrette, cocktails, or whatever else you think needs a tart, astringent sock in the eye.

Couscous Salad with Grapes, Feta, and Pickled Rhubarb
2 cups dried couscous (I used Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat couscous)
3 tablespoons good, fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced pickled rhubarb*
2 cups halved red grapes
1/3 cup chopped parsley
6 ounces brined feta, crumbled
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Prepare couscous according to the instructions on the package. Pour the cooked couscous into a large bowl. Dribble with olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss lightly with a fork, making sure to not mash the couscous. Add pickled rhubarb, grapes, parsley, feta, and red pepper flakes (if using). Toss lightly again, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately.


  1. This...is...AWESOME! My parents have a huge rhubarb patch and I'm always looking for new ways to use it (pies are just too easy and, frankly, boring), love this recipe and the scone one! Thank you sooo much! :D

    1. Hope you like it! I'm jealous! It is hard to find rhubarb in Sacramento.

    2. Garret, I live in Sacrament too and am originally from North Dakota, so when springtime comes i am always on the search for Rhubarb. This year, I found it in an unlilkely place. Winco in South Sac carries it! Look in the area of the produce section where they carry mushrooms, and the chile peppers. You will find it there starting in Late April. I am still getting some from the Winco in Stockton, and this is the end of May! The box they display it in on the shelf says Oregon and/or Washington, depending on what they have available. I am trying to grow my own here in the Galt area, but I am afraid that our hot summers here are going to kill it. I made some simple pickles with it last night.. outstanding! It is not this recipe however, just Apple Cider Vinegar, Sugar and Salt. Good Lukc!

    3. I will be trying this recipe if I am lucky enough to score another bunch of my favorite vegetable!

  2. There are few recipes out there that compel me to hop in my car and drive in search of an ingredient... but this is one! Absolutely cannot wait to make up a batch of this!!

    1. I hope you find it worth the drive, Nancy. This pickle is now a big favorite of mine. I'm even tucking it into sammiches.

  3. I have always had an affinity for anything pickled, and used to do a lot of vinegar-based pickling. Recently, though, I've been on a fermentation kick -- salt-fermentation to be precise. I've used it for cukes, sauerkraut (SO good!), cauliflower, and onions. I wonder how rhubarb would do...?

    1. Not sure. I have not done any fermentation preservation. O.o

    2. If I decide to try it, I'll let you know how it turns out!

  4. I'm so glad that you have finally invented pickled rhubarb and given it a name so it is no longer the poor bastard child of the pickled vegetable or fruit kingdom. It is good work you do. Who needs pie?

  5. Garrett: Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I made a quart and loved them(it). I shared some with my sisters along with the recipe. I just finished making yet another quart this morning. We are blessed here in the Pacific Northwest with rhubarb bounty. Marcia


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