I am very enthusiastic about Rhubarb. I can’t think of a more distinct and welcoming flavour with its herbal pink mouth-puckering astringency. I grow it in my garden because I think it is a glorious plant, Jurassic looking with its enormous leaves. Beautiful and useful.
My favourite book is entitled Rhubarbaria. L.J., who loves Rhubarb less than I do, gifted it to me with the inscription, “Come spring I may regret this.” This thin volume covers the history of Rhubarb with its roots in Asia as a medicinal plant, mainly grown for its root. As it migrated its way to Europe and beyond, it was hybridized to develop the vibrant plump stems way we recognize as rhubarb today. There are also countless recipes that piqued my curiosity, one of which is a Polish dish of rhubarb and new potatoes.
In the days before our industrialized and globalized food chain, rhubarb would have been the first fruit after a long winter. A pedant would correct my claiming rhubarb as a fruit, as it is rightly classified as a vegetable, but such distinctions seem tedious. Knowing that Rhubarb is a vegetable though can help us stretch this underutilized garden treasure beyond its traditional pie or cake. While I have done an excellent pound cake batter with the rhubarb strewn over the top before it goes into the oven, and a pie of rich butter pastry encasing a sugared rhubarb filling with grated ginger, I have also attempted to stretch my rhubarb vernacular this spring. Rhubarb has made its way, thinly sliced, into a cucumber and mint salad, it has formed the basis for a siracha-glazed chicken skewer, and has served as a barbeque sauce for a meatloaf. Rhubarb makes an excellent chutney, and is very good as a salsa.
Local food champions are fond of rhubarb because it can bring a refreshing acidic lift to a meal without the use of imported citrus. I know I knee-jerk to lemons far too often when instead I could reach for our local rhubarb. It can be excellent with grilled fish, in salads, and a rhubarb cordial, or iced tea, is every bit as satisfying as a refreshing summer lemonaide.
Rhubarb Ginger Jam
I rarely buy jam. It is easy to make at home and always better. Even locally produced market jams have commercial pectin added making it far too stiff for my liking. I like jam that droops off the spoon.
Rhubarb makes excellent jam and comes together quickly. I have been known to make it for company when they are around for breakfast and there is no other jam in the house. Simply take an equal measure of chopped rhubarb and sugar, add a knob of ginger (washed, but unpeeled) sliced 1/8 of an inch and let it simmer, stirring frequentl, until it thickens into jam, perhaps 30 minutes or so, more or less depending on how much you are making. It can be sealed in steralized jars, but never lasts long enough in our fridge that I have bothered so far this year.
Rhubarb Glazed Meatloaf
In the summer I occasionally make a loose textured meatloaf of ground chicken. Sometimes I cook it outdoors. This one emerged when the weather turned and I couldn’t barbeque the tiny meat kofta that would have been wrapped in lettuce leaves and eaten with a garlicky and herb yoghurt sauce.
For the Rhubarb Sauce:
I hesitate to call the sauce for this meatloaf a barbeque sauce because it is perhaps more accurately a chutney. Take 2 cups of chopped Rhubarb, two cups of brown sugar, ¼ cup of cider vinegar, and a healthy tablespoon of ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and a knife point of ground allspice and dried mustard powder. Simmer until the fruit is broken down and it has thickened. Tip in a bit of water as necessary.
For the Meatloaf:
Cube 1 cup of stale bread and drop it into the bowl to which you add about a cup of chopped herbs including parsley, cilantro, mint, tarragon, and green onion or chive. Add a few tablespoons of Dijon mustard, an egg, and a sprinkling of ground coriander. Season well. Add the ground chicken, mix well, and press into a pan or shape into a log, and nestle in a cast iron pan. Roast in the oven or place on a barbeque for 20 minutes or so. Drizzle over the rhubarb sauce and continue roasting for another 20 minutes or so, glazing once more half way.
Serve with a good green salad and thinly sliced garden radish, dressed lightly with a bright vinaigrette.
Siracha Rhubarb Glazed Chicken Skewers with Roast Sweet Potato and Kholrabi Leaf Salad
We make endless varieties of skewers through the summer. They grill quickly and can take on the flavours of marinades or sauces very well. They just need to be paired with a bold, fresh salad, and served with a glass of chilled wine, to feel like summer.
Make the Siracha rhubarb sauce by taking a cup full of rhubarb jam, and adding ¼ cup or so of Siracha, a thumb sized piece of grated ginger mixing well. Glaze the skewers during the last 8 minutes of grilling, turning and glazing just so the sauce carmalizes but doesn’t blacken.
The salad is simply roasted and cooled sweet potato tossed with tender new kohlrabi leaves, spinach , green onion and dill. Drizzle with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette sweetened slightly with honey.
I think it is time to be more intentional in our use of rhubarb and to approach it with courage. Though, my very favourite way to eat it will always be gently stewed and served over a tart, bright Greek yoghurt at breakfast time.