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Carrie's Kitchen: Recipes featuring rhubarb, a most unusual, stalky vegetable

We’re into May, and that means rhubarb should be in season!

Never had rhubarb? Does it sound like something only your grandparents’ generation enjoyed? Well, it shouldn’t! Rhubarb is a very unusual, stalky vegetable that can be tart and crunchy and has an unusual “tang” that I don’t think you can find anywhere else.

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To pick good rhubarb, look for firm and shiny stalks, and the petite red ones are usually better than the fat green ones. Beware of the leaves — they can be poisonous, though thankfully you would have to eat a lot of them to be affected. Still, you don’t want to have them lying around and have someone mistake them for something else.

Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries, because they come to market at the same time of year, are both red, and make a sweet and tart flavor combination. For this column, I wanted recipes with just rhubarb so you could really experience their flavor on their own, and I’m hoping you will find one of these recipes intriguing. Next week’s column will be all about strawberries.

First for today, a barbecue sauce, that has a lot of the standard ingredients and quite a few spices, and a full cup of rhubarb that should get nice and tender after simmering in the mix for about 25 minutes. Run it through a blender or food processor to get it nice and smooth and mop it on some grilled chicken!

Second, a sweet and sour pork with the sauce made from rhubarb and orange juice. This recipe recommended serving it with fried rice, but I think a nice plain rice would allow the sauce to shine even more.

And finally, sheetpan rhubarb chicken. I find sheetpan chicken recipes to be really nice because they incorporate the vegetables into the meal, without it being a casserole, and the flavors start mixing together while they’re cooking, and as an added bonus, there are less dishes to wash when you’re done! This recipe calls for broccolini, those stalky broccolis with thin stems and tiny florets, but you could use regular broccoli as well as long as you cut the florets into small pieces so they can cook quickly.

Enjoy!

Rhubarb barbecue sauce

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup rhubarb, chopped

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

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1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan of medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. When the sauce starts bubbling, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rhubarb is tender.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Be careful if the sauce is still hot as it can create pressure with the lid on. I just cover the top of my blender with a towel while I blend the hot sauce. The sauce will be thicken as it cools, but may be thinned with water to reach your desired consistency.

Store in the refrigerator and use to baste chicken, pork chops or tenderloin, ribs, or other meat on the grill, or use it with pulled pork or in any recipe that calls for BBQ sauce.

Rhubarb sweet and sour pork

For the sweet and sour rhubarb sauce:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

Zest of 1/4 orange

Juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons soft light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crispy pork:

8-ounce pork fillet, thinly sliced

1 egg, scrambled

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Light oil

To make the rhubarb sauce, preheat the oven to 390 degrees. Toss together all the ingredients in a small baking dish; you want it small enough so that the rhubarb fits snugly and so that the orange juice stews the roasting rhubarb, rather than evaporating away. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes while you fry the pork.

To prepare the pork, season the flour well with salt and pepper, and dip each slice of pork first in the flour, then the egg, then the panko breadcrumbs.

To fry the pork, cover the base of a large frying pan in about 1/4 inch of cooking oil and allow to heat until shimmering over a medium high heat. You can check if it is ready by dropping in a few breadcrumbs; they should sizzle on contact with the oil. Line a plate with a double layer of kitchen paper.

Reduce the heat to medium then add the pork slices, you’ll probably have to do this in two batches, flipping after a minute or two once the bottom of the piece has turned golden and crispy, before using tongs to set the cooked pieces aside to drain on the lined plate.

Remove the rhubarb sauce from the oven, and gently mash it with a fork so that it has a more sauce-like consistency, but there are still a good few chunks of rhubarb in there. Spoon over the pork and serve.

Sheetpan rhubarb chicken

2 cups rhubarb, about 1 large stalk, sliced into ½-inch sections

1/4 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

8 chicken thighs

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 bunch broccolini or asparagus

2 limes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12- by 17-inch (or similar) sheet pan with cooking spray or brush with oil.

In a small saucepan, heat the rhubarb, orange juice, and honey to a simmer. Simmer until rhubarb is softened, about 6-8 minutes.

Strain the softened rhubarb over a bowl, and reserve the pink liquid. You will use it to baste the chicken. Set the rhubarb chunks to cool a bit.

When cooled, use a fork to mix the softened rhubarb with the butter, until all of the butter is smoothly incorporated. Salt and pepper the butter.

Gently loosen the skin over each thigh. Using a teaspoon, place a spoonful of the rhubarb butter between the skin and flesh and rub it around a bit. It’s OK to rub a bit on the bottom of each thigh as well.

Pat the tops of the thighs dry with a paper towel. Place each on the sheet pan, covering about 2/3 of the sheet pan.

Salt and pepper each thigh, then brush the tops of the thighs with olive oil. Then brush with the reserved rhubarb liquid. Sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Place in preheated oven. Roast 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Add the broccolini or asparagus. Toss broccolini spears with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper generously. Cut limes in half.

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Add to the section of the sheet pan that is still empty. Place limes, flesh side down, onto the pan as well. Return pan to oven for 15 more minutes.

When done, remove pan from oven, let rest 5 minutes, then remove and serve, squeezing lime juice over everything.

Note: to substitute bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, if you prefer, for the thighs, just be careful not to over-cook. You may want to check for doneness at 35-40 minutes total. Internal temp should be 165 degrees.

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