Rhu-Tang Clan 

I don't know about your neighborhood, but every spring it seems our neck of town is awash in rhubarb. Large tufts of the big-leafed perennial can be seen in nearly every yard, and neighbors have long since stopped asking each other, "Hey, ya want some rhubarb?"

As with zucchini later in the summer, the volume of rhubarb produced by just one plant consistently outpaces the supply of different and creative recipes. In the case of rhubarb, it's hard to find ways of cooking the plant that don't rely on massive doses of white sugar, or that don't relegate it to another super-sweetened dessert food.

So here are a few suggestions that will allow you to at least make a dent in your supply (or that of your neighbor's should you know someone with a patch).

The first two recipes start with a simple rhubarb "stock" or sauce. Just boil up some rhubarb at a ratio of one cup sugar (or other sweetener) to four cups rhubarb, along with four cups of water. Boil until syrupy.

The stock itself is yummy as a tart accompaniment to the smooth, creamy textures of ice cream, or as a topping on waffles and pancakes. (One way to sweeten such a sauce while cutting down on the refined sugar intake it to boil up a few peaches, bananas and strawberries along with the rhubarb. I am not recommending such a mix for the recipes below because I haven't tried it. But it might work because the other fruits simply sweeten and mellow out the sourness of the rhubarb, which still provides plenty of tang to the mix.)

The first recipe has in fact been market tested and approved for wider use by a rather unfocused group of consumers at a recent Independent party.

Malcolm's Sweet-and-Sour Rhubarb and Mint Barbecue Sauce

One cup sweetened rhubarb "stock" as mentioned above

One cup fresh mint leaves (teaspoon dried mint)

Quarter cup of soy sauce

One clove garlic

Two tablespoons sesame oil (olive or peanut oil will do)

Dash of fenugreek

Sweeten if necessary with brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup or honey

Mix well in blender. Apply to meat before and during barbecue. For ribs, I recommend marinating the meat after par-boiling in a diluted mixture of the above sauce before grilling. Take roughly a half cup of the goop and mix it with enough water to cover the meat in a large bowl or pot. Let the meat soak up the minty, sweet-and-sour sauce for an hour or so. Then apply the rest of the sauce while cooking. Though I haven't tried it, I bet it would also serve as a glaze for ham, or even a marinade for grilled veggies.

Sweet Rhubarb Vinaigrette (For one family-sized salad)

Quarter cup sweetened rhubarb "stock"

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons balsamic, rice, or red wine vinegar

Dash of fenugreek

1 clove of crushed garlic

Mix in blender until creamy. Season with salt and pepper (or other spices) to taste.

Rhubarb Smoothie

Mix in blender:

One cup diced fresh or frozen rhubarb

Two bananas

One tablespoon honey

Half cup frozen strawberries

Quarter cup yogurt (and/or tablespoon dehydrated milk)

Other fruit to suit taste

Okay, I admit, it sounds funky. But the honey and other fruits mellow out the rhubarb's sourness, while the rhubarb provides just enough flavor and Vitamin C to make a truly healthy drink. Though you'll want to blend your drink a wee bit longer, to chop of the stalk's fiber to a fine consistency, smoothies are also a great way to get rid of that rhubarb!

You can chop up and freeze rhubarb in small ziplock bags. Then take out a handful each morning and add to your smoothie. And there's another nice side effect to the rhubarb: The plant's fibrous nature means your smoothie maintains a milk-shake-like consistency even longer -- i.e. it won't separate as quickly into juice and pulp on the way to work or whatever.

I hope the above suggestions help reduce tensions in your neighborhood. My next project is rhubarb wine, a recipe well-covered in most wine-making books, but I'm not going to recommend it until six months from now when the cask is uncorked.



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