Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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Rhubarb revival

Versatility allows humble vegetable to regain attention

  • Curried-rhubarb-chicken

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  • Rhubarb-slushie

    Rhubarb slushie

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  • Rhubarb-crisp

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Rhubarb: People either love it or they loathe it. There doesn’t seem to be much middling “meh“ reaction to it. It’s either one extreme or the other.

Rhubarb is wonderful, when shown both respect and love. At a pie competition held in Ann Arbor last summer, the unanimous winner was one celebrating rhubarb; it shone with just enough sugar to make it sweet-tart, rather than being sucrosed into submission. There was lard in the crust, too, defying modern sensibilities about its unhealthy properties and demonstrating why so many grandmas and connoisseurs still use it instead of butter or shortening for flavor and flakiness.

Happily, more and more people seem to be enjoying rhubarb. Not too long ago, it seemed that if rhubarb was mentioned it elicited an immediate nose wrinkling and instinctive backing away. When it was discussed in conjunction with this article, though, I heard about one co-worker’s family making rhubarb jam, and another picking rhubarb from the garden and eating it without cooking or adornment. Dare I say, it almost seemed as though rhubarb is ... popular. You like it, you really like it!

Luscious pies are virtually everyone’s first instinct. As fabulous as rhubarb pie is, with or without strawberries (some of us won’t quibble with either preference, having eaten plenty of each), there is much more that can be done with rhubarb than simply stuffing it between two crusts.

Another sweet option is a fruit crisp sprinkled with a spicy, crumbly topping. It’s easier to make than pie, while featuring similar flavors. And if you stir some oats into the streusel on top, you can then delude yourself that you’re eating health food. Fruit and oats — it’s nutritious, right?

Or, perhaps, on a hot day you might enjoy a nice cold slushie, made by stirring some rhubarb syrup into sorbet and chilling the mixture until it’s icy. Orange is another flavor, like strawberry, that is often used to complement rhubarb; so a blood orange sorbet seemed to be the perfect pairing for this treat.

Rhubarb can also work in savory dishes. One of my favorites, the Curried Rhubarb Chicken, has received numerous compliments over the years: “I made this tonight and it was awesome! The brown sugar caramelized on top of the chicken and the rhubarb dissolved into a super-yummy sauce.” “[We] had your Curried Rhubarb Chicken. I felt like it was a dish from a fancy restaurant .... We loved it!” It’s unusual, but this will definitely reward you for your adventurous spirit in trying something unexpected.

Rhubarb is in its prime right now, whether gorgeous ruby red or green with faint hints of blushing pink. Both are edible and both will serve well in these recipes; the red may be more photogenic and festive, but both are equally delicious and ready to shine in celebration of spring.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



  • 4 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3-1/2 pounds skinless chicken pieces (breasts and thighs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar rice, for serving

Curried Rhubarb Chicken

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a 9”x13” baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, coriander, cumin, ginger, and curry powder; saute 1 minute. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion softens just a bit. Add juice and rhubarb; bring to a boil over high heat, cover, then lower heat back to medium and cook 10 minutes. Stir, then re-cover; cook 10 more minutes until rhubarb has broken down into a sauce.

While rhubarb cooks, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken on both sides with the remaining teaspoon of salt and the black pepper. Brown chicken in the skillet for 5 minutes per side, then place into the prepared baking dish. Pour the rhubarb sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with the brown sugar, and bake for 30-35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot, with rice.

Serves 6-8.

Source: Mary Bilyeu





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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 quart strawberries, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts generous sprinkling of cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted ice cream and/or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9” pie pan.

Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch in the pie pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, oats, walnuts, and cinnamon. With a fork, stir in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the fruit

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the fruit is tender and bubbling.

Serve topped with ice cream and/or whipped cream. (I certainly won’t make you choose!)

Makes 10 servings.

Source: Mary Bilyeu




Rhubarb slushie

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Orange Rhubarb Slushie

  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced candied ginger
  • 2-1/2 cups water
  • 1 pint blood orange sorbet, softened ginger ale

In a large saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar, salt, ginger, and water; bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes until rhubarb mixture is soupy and has dissolved.

Strain the rhubarb through cheesecloth into a freezer-safe medium-large bowl, pressing on the solids; discard rhubarb. Stir the sorbet into the rhubarb juice until dissolved, then place the bowl into the freezer, uncovered.

Freeze for several hours until the mixture is mostly, but not fully, frozen; stir occasionally. Divide the mixture among 4 decorative glasses, then top off with ginger ale.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Mary Bilyeu


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