Ingredient SpotLight

Rhubarb is a vegetable that is most associated with desserts. And while this tangy treat is perfect when paired with some sweetness in a dessert, I've found that it can lend its tang equally well to savory dishes as well. So this month, I'm sharing some thoughts about rhubarb and a couple recipes -- one sweet and one savory -- to whet your appetite.

Botanically speaking, rhubarb is considered a vegetable, but it's most often treated as a fruit — though it's rarely eaten raw. Just like fresh cranberries, rhubarb is almost unbearably tart on its own and needs the sweetness of sugar, honey, or fruit juice added to it to balance out the acidity. Rhubarb's nickname is the "pie plant" because that is the primary use for this vegetable.

Never eat rhubarb leaves, cooked or raw! Eating the leaves can be poisonous because they contain oxalate. This toxin, plus another unknown toxin also found in the leaves, has been reported to cause poisoning when large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are ingested.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Though known as the pie plant, rhubarb can really shine in any dessert that would benefit from a tart kick. Here, it is paired with its springtime partner, strawberries, for a crisp that takes all of the flavor of a good pie with only a fraction of the effort. Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream for a special treat.
  • 5 cups diced rhubarb
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup large-flake rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Place the mixture in a greased 9-inch baking dish.

Combine the flour, sugar, oats and butter. Sprinkle over the rhubarb mixture.

Bake the crisp until the fruit is tender and the topping is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Country Ribs with Asian-Rhubarb Sauce

Anyone who thinks that rhubarb is just for desserts should try this fantastic ribs recipe featuring rhubarb in its sweet, tangy, spicy sauce. If you like heat, increase the amount of cayenne in the sauce. Any leftover sauce is great with chicken!
  • 3 lbs. country-style pork ribs
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. minced ginger
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. mirin
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1/2 lb. rhubarb, tops removed and ends trimmed
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/3 c. dark brown sugar
  • 2 T. rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Trim any excess fat from the ribs. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the ribs in batches, setting the browned ribs in a bowl. When they are all browned, return them to the Dutch oven along with the garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. Cover the Dutch oven and refrigerate the mixture for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the chicken broth, mirin and honey to the ribs in the Dutch oven. Place it over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the ribs are tender -- about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the Asian-Rhubarb Sauce. Wash and roughly chop the rhubarb. Pulse the rhubarb in a food processor until very finely chopped.

Transfer the ribs to a broiler pan. Add the rhubarb to the cooking liquid. Add the remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes more or until the mixture is thickened and bubbly.

Brush some of the sauce over the ribs. Bake an additional 15 minutes. Flip the ribs and bake an additional 15 minutes. Serve the ribs with extra sauce for dipping.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: about 3 hours