Food & Drink

Tarting it up: Rhubarb adds slash of flavor and color to spring

Salad with roasted rhubarb
Salad with roasted rhubarb Tribune

If you’ve never indulged in rhubarb, this year you should: High in vitamins C and K (which plays an important role in bone health), and a good source of dietary fiber, it provides a pretty nutritious bang for your buck. Rhubarb also is one of nature’s top plant sources of bone-building calcium and is extremely low in calories (less than 30 calories per cup raw) – though you’ll probably end up using at least some sugar (and in some cases A LOT of sweetener) when cooking with it.

Rhubarb has long been known as “pie plant” for a reason. Too sour to eat out of hand, it’s typically paired with fruits such as strawberries or raspberries and lots of sugar to make sweet treats such as cakes, pies, breads, ice cream and jam.

But rhubarb lends itself pretty deliciously to savory dishes, too, as the shrimp recipe confirms. If you’re the kind of person who loves veggies preserved in brine, you’ll be delighted to learn rhubarb tastes great pickled.

And don’t forget about cocktails. Tart and sweet, rhubarb makes for a good shrub or simple syrup.

While the veggie can be traced back to ancient China, and by the 1st century was being imported to Rome and Greece, it was only used for medicinal purposes; it wasn’t until the 1700s that people embraced the entire rhubarb plant in the kitchen. One of its biggest selling points was that the crop could be harvested long before any other fruit, allowing those who had grown tired of baking with raisins and root-cellar apples throughout winter to make fresh “fruit” tarts. By 1807, its use was so common – and dare we say beloved – that a recipe for rhubarb tart turned up in the most popular British cookbook of the early 19th century, “A New System of Domestic Cookery” by English domestic goddess Maria Eliza Rundell.

Because only rhubarb stalks can be eaten (its heart-shaped leaves are poisonous), the veggie comes stripped naked of any greenery. It can be either red or green, and prices vary.

Look for firm, crispy-looking and well-colored stalks – the redder the rhubarb, the sweeter the flesh. Don’t worry about peeling it or having to cook it immediately. Stored in a plastic bag, rhubarb will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three weeks; it also can be cut up and frozen for up to a year. (Freeze individual pieces separately on a tray before placing them in a bag to keep them loose.)

RHUBARB-GLAZED SHRIMP

Serves 6

“Don’t stop with shrimp” in this recipe, advise the editors of Sunset. “This sweet-and-sour barbecue sauce promises to be a summer staple, since it’s great on grilled pork chops and chicken, too.”

1/2 cup chopped rhubarb (preferably red rather than green)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp (36 to 42 per pound)

1 green onion, thinly sliced diagonally

Heat a grill to high (450 to 550 degrees). In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook rhubarb, ginger, garlic, hoisin, sugar, and 1/4 cup water. When rhubarb starts to break apart, about 3 minutes, whisk in soy sauce and transfer half the glaze to a small bowl.

Thread shrimp onto 4 metal skewers. Brush both sides of shrimp with glaze from pan. Grill shrimp, turning and basting generously as you go, until they’re opaque and grill marks appear, about 8 minutes total.

Transfer to a serving plate and brush with glaze from bowl. Sprinkle with onion. Serve with remaining glaze from bowl on the side.

– Sunset magazine

ROASTED RHUBARB SALAD

Serves 6

8 ounces rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoon thinly sliced shallot

2 teaspoons minced tarragon

1 pound watercress, tough stems removed

1/4 cup toasted chopped walnut

3 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss together the rhubarb, syrup and 1 teaspoon of oil. Spread mixture on prepared baking sheet and roast until rhubarb is tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, shallot and tarragon. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons of oil.

In large bowl, combine watercress, walnuts and rhubarb. Gently toss in goat cheese and dressing.

– “Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes” by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck (Running Press, 2014, $27.50)

SKILLET CHICKEN WITH RHUBARB

Serves 4

Don’t let the greenish tint of this savory chicken dish dissuade you from trying it – it is so, so good. Good enough, in fact, to serve to company.

5 1/2-pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed

1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed

5 sprigs thyme, preferably lemon thyme

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch spring onions or scallions, white and light-green stalks thinly sliced (slice and reserve greens for garnish)

2 stalks green garlic, thinly sliced, or 2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

3/4 pound fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)

1 tablespoon honey, or to taste

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pat chicken dry and season with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place in a bowl with the thyme sprigs and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove thyme from bowl with chicken, reserving thyme. Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer pieces to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium. Stir in onion (white and light-green parts) and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and reserved thyme; cook 1 minute more. Stir in wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of pan. Add rhubarb, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Return chicken pieces to pot in a single layer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes for breasts and 20 to 25 minutes for legs and thighs, transferring chicken pieces to a platter as they finish cooking.

Whisk butter into rhubarb sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with sliced onion greens.

– Melissa Clark, New York Times

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