Writer Kim Ode's Rhubarb Revolution

Author Kim Ode shares new ideas for an old favorite fruit
In her book "Rhubarb Renaissance," Kim Ode encourages eaters to move beyond the classic strawberry-rhubarb pairing.

Kim Ode would like to start a rhubarb revolution and encourage fans of the summer fruit to look beyond the classic strawberry-rhubarb pairing and find more adventurous flavor combinations such as couscous, figs or … shrimp?

“Rhubarb and shrimp are to die for,” promises Ode. “The sweet of the shrimp complements the tartness of the rhubarb. I have a wonderful appetizer recipe for shrimp and roasted rhubarb called “Shrimp in Kimonos”–it’s deep-fried in wonton wrappers.”

In her new cookbook, Rhubarb Renaissance (Minnesota Historical Society Press), Ode serves up a distinctive variety of unique and delicious recipes that are perfect for capitalizing on the backyard bounty of rhubarb that many Minnesota gardeners have or can easily find at their local farmers market. Ode’s own plant in her Edina front yard comes from a cutting from her grandmother’s plant, variety unknown.

“The goal of the cookbook was to explore the savory as well as the sweet side of rhubarb,” says Ode, a feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s variety section. “On its own, rhubarb is a little bitter, so even if you are going to use it in a less sweet fashion, it will need a bit of sugar or another sweetener.”

Ode spent four months testing the over 55 recipes found in Rhubarb Renaissance and, ironically, most of that testing occurred during the winter months so she needed to rely on frozen rhubarb, which she says performed perfectly in the recipes.

“Rhubarb is so loaded with water that it breaks down anyway,” she says, adding that an added boost from frozen rhubarb is its red hue (fresh rhubarb can tend to be on the greener side).

In addition to classics such as Rhubarb Custard Pie, a recipe from her mother Ihla Ode that was a regular fixture on the dessert table at family gatherings was Eastern Sky Scones (Ode, an avid baker, is also the author of Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club). The cookbook also features a recipe for Pickled Rhubarb and Rhuba-dillas (a quesadilla made with finely chopped raw rhubarb).

Another of Ode’s more unconventional rhubarb recipes–Spiced Couscous with Rhubarb and Figs–has even attracted some high profile attention, landing on Oprah Winfrey’s website not long after the book was published in March–an accolade that Ode called “a wonderful surprise”.

During her rhubarb research, Ode discovered that this botanical vegetable–which we treat as a fruit–has iron and magnesium and was originally used medicinally in China before finding its way to Europe.

“Eventually, some wise housewife added sugar to pieces of this medicinal plant,” says Ode. “I’d like to think she was Scandinavian.”


Shrimp in Kimonos

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup rhubarb, cut in half-inch pieces
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
2 scallions, white and some green parts, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 ½ pounds large (20-24 count) shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 teaspoon cornstarch
30-36 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ cups canola or peanut oil for frying
sea salt

In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, brown sugar, rhubarb, ginger, scallions, rosemary and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb breaks down and begins to look “jammy”, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, remove and discard bay leaf, and scrape mixture into a bowl. Set aside to cool.

Pat shrimp dry. Sprinkle a plate with cornstarch to keep the “kimonos” from sticking after they’re wrapped.

Brush one wonton wrapper with beaten egg. Place a half teaspoon of rhubarb in the center and place one shrimp on the diagonal. Fold one half of the wrapper over the shrimp, then the other. Bring the corner opposite the tail up and over the seam and pinch to seal. Pinch the remaining corner around the shrimp’s tail, almost like a collar. Place on the cornstarch-covered plate and repeat until all the shrimp are wrapped.

Heat oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat until a wrapper starts to sizzle when you dip a corner into the oil. Fry 3 wrapped shrimp at a time for about a minute, turning once, until crisp and golden. Remove to paper towels and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Repeat with remaining shrimp. Makes 30-36.  They are best served immediately but will hold for up to 30 minutes, uncovered, in a 200-degree oven.

Recipe from Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode.