Hope This Rubs You the Right Way


When a friend and her daughter came for a visit toting a plate of rhubarb and strawberry bars, you'd have thought that my son would have had a little more tact before digging in and stuffing his mouth with three pieces at once and proclaiming in a tone loud enough for the neighbors to hear: "Wow mom, these are amazing! What is this stuff? Why don't you ever make something with this rhubarb gunk in it?"

So much for 22 years of three meals a day, countless batches of cookies on demand, and explanation that "gunk" is not an official culinary term. After getting over his defection, I realized he was right — and that I hadn't made anything with rhubarb in years. Time for me to step up to the kitchen counter and correct that mistake.

I don't really care that rhubarb is a vegetable that acts like a fruit, because no matter how you serve it, it's always a treat. It's available year-round in the freezer section, but it's best in the spring, when it's one of the first veggies of the season.

As pretty as it looks and as easy as it is to use, you need to be careful when working with the fresh stuff because its leaves are toxic. Eating them can make you really sick because they contain oxalate. It won't kill you (unless you eat a ton), but it can still make you really, really sick.

Fresh rhubarb also contains a great deal of acid, so be sure to use a nonaluminum pan for cooking. If you don't plan to cook it right away, then discard the leaves, wrap stalks in plastic or put it into a baggie, and store in the coldest part of the fridge.

When ready to use, wash the rhubarb well, and trim the tips and base. Feel free to peel it (it's stringy, like celery) or chop it up as is.

This bit of effort will be well worth the final products. If you don't believe me, ask my son!

Rhubarb and Lemon-Berry Coffee Cake

1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped apples
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1 tsp. lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
11/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup each butter, cubed
11/2 Tbsps. grated lemon zest
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 Tbsps. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375°.

Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan, and line bottom with parchment or waxed paper.

In a bowl, combine the rhubarb, apples, raspberries, blueberries, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of the remaining sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Cut in the butter until fine crumbs form. Stir in the lemon rind. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the eggs with yogurt, and then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just to combine; do not overmix.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange fruit over top, but don't spread all the way to the edges.

Spoon the remaining batter evenly over top, making sure that batter covers the fruit totally and goes to edge of pan. Brush the top of the cake with butter; sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Bake on a baking sheet in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, or until golden-brown.

Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool completely.

Serves 8 to 9.

Almond-and-Rhubarb Sour-Cream Muffins

2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
21/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
11/2 cups rhubarb, diced small

Topping Ingredients:

4 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a bowl, combine the 3 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon and almonds. Mix and set aside.

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt, and whisk to blend.

In another bowl, combine the sour cream, melted butter, eggs and vanilla, and mix until combined.

Gently combine sour-cream mixture into the flour mixture, but do not overmix. Fold in the rhubarb. The batter will be thick.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Sprinkle cinnamon-nut topping on top.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden-brown on top.

Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then put on a cooling rack for another 10 minutes.

Makes 12.

Rhubarb Salsa

Use over chicken or fish.

2 cups fresh rhubarb, finely diced
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsps. chopped parsley
3 Tbsps. green onion, sliced thin
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1-2 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
brown sugar to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Blanch rhubarb in boiling water for 10 seconds, then immediately dump it into ice water. Drain well and place it in a bowl.

Add the red peppers, yellow peppers, parsley and cilantro, and mix to combine.

Add the green onions and minced chili peppers, and 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice.

Add the brown sugar, salt and pepper, and mix to combine.

Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Hot-and-Sour Rhubarb Chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 cup rhubarb, chopped up small
1 cup water
2 Tbsps. honey
2 Tbsps. soy sauce
2 tsps. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp. dried ginger
1/2 tsp. dried coriander
8 oz. egg noodle
black sesame seeds
1 lime

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place chicken in a 9×9-inch baking dish.

In a bowl, combine the rhubarb, water, honey, soy sauce, garlic, chili powder, five-spice powder, coriander and ginger, then pour it over the chicken.

Turn the chicken a few times to coat it thoroughly. Bake for 25 minutes, then turn the chicken over and baste it. Bake an additional 20 minutes.

Cook the noodles according to the package directions just before you're ready to serve.

Drain the noodles and divide them between two plates.

Divide the chicken between the two plates and spoon the sauce over the top.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over sauce.

Serve with a slice of lime.

Serves 2.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Glazed Chicken Thighs

I saw this in The Washington Post last year, and after trying it decided that it was going to be my new favorite summer chicken recipe.

Glaze Ingredients:

1 stalk rhubarb (about 2 ounces), cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice to yield 1/2 cup
4-6 large strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice to yield 1/2 cup
1 small onion, cut into small dice (1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar
2 tsps. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. salt
cups water
2 Tbsps. apple-cider vinegar

8 scallions (root ends trimmed off), remaining white and light-green parts about 6 inches long
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 lb. peeled and cored pineapple, cut into four 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices
2 lbs. bone-in skinless chicken thighs
freshly ground black pepper

For the Glaze: Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, onion, sugar, mustard seeds, salt and water in a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir to mix well, until bubbles form at the edges.

Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture does not boil over, until it has reduced by half; the vegetables should be quite soft.

Carefully transfer to a blender. Remove the center portion of the lid to let steam escape, and then place a dish towel over the lid. Purée until smooth, and then add the vinegar and pulse to combine. Divide the glaze evenly between 2 small bowls.

For the Chicken and Pineapple: Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium (350°). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when ready, distribute them on one side of the cooking area. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

While the grill is preheating, bring a shallow pan of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and cook for 2 minutes (for thin scallions) to 4 minutes (thick), then use tongs to transfer them to a plate. They should be tender and bright-green.

Lightly salt the pineapple slices and chicken thighs; season chicken with pepper to taste. Place them on the grill over direct heat; close the lid. When the pineapple has good grill marks on one side (5 to 6 minutes), turn the pieces and move to the indirect-heat side of the grill.

Use one bowl of the glaze to brush the pineapple. Grill (with the lid closed) for 5 to 6 minutes. At the same time, turn over the chicken thighs once they have grill marks (10 to 13 minutes), allowing the second side to get color and grill marks (10 to 12 minutes). Transfer to the indirect-heat side of the grill and brush with glaze in the second bowl.

As the pineapple and chicken thighs are done, transfer them to a platter; use the space on the grill rack to grill the par-cooked scallions close to the indirect-heat side of the grill for a few minutes, until slightly charred.

To serve, cut each slice of grilled pineapple vertically in half, placing a half-slice on each plate. Top with 2 grilled chicken thighs, 2 grilled scallions and a second pineapple half.

Eileen Goltz is a freelance food writer and the author of Perfectly Pareve. E-mail her at: [email protected]


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