Rhubarb is the essence of Spring. Young stalks are tender and their tang and texture can be enjoyed raw (in moderation), sliced into salsas or savoury salads. Mature stalks become woody and require stringing before cooking.
Technically a vegetable, rhubarb is nearly always used as a fruit. A native to Siberia and East Asia, it was used as far back as 2000 BC for medicinal purposes because of its purgative and astringent qualities. Mentions of a form of rhubarb appeared in the Pen Tsao, the works of a Chinese pharmacist of this period.
It was introduced to England in 1573 where, for two centuries, it was a gardener's curiosity. The leaves are unsafe for eating as they are high in oxalic acid, a crystalline substance which is used as a bleach and cleansing agent for metals. The stalks though are non-toxic.
Rhubarb combines well with raspberries and strawberries and is also excellent combined with apples in preserves. It is quite high in moisture. If whole chunks are required, baking them is best — together with a little honey and orange juice or wine. Don’t stir, otherwise they turn mushy.
RHUBARB & RASPBERRY MUFFINS
These can be frozen. However, they need to be reheated in a conventional oven so the topping doesn’t go soggy.
Topping: 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
50g butter, melted
Muffins: 2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup frozen raspberries
2 cups finely diced rhubarb
2 3/4 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon each: baking soda, ground cinnamon, nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly brush a 12-hole muffin pan with melted butter.
Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl.
Beat the eggs and sugar until well combined then add the buttermilk, raspberries and rhubarb. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.
Spoon into the muffin holes and sprinkle with the topping. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 5 minutes then cool on a wire rack. Makes 12.
QUICK RHUBARB CHUTNEY
Excellent served with creamy cheeses or brushed over salmon before baking.
500g trimmed rhubarb
1 medium onion, diced
2cm piece root ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Wash the rhubarb and thinly slice.
Place the onion, ginger, vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the rhubarb. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes or until thickened.
Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal. Makes 2 3/4 cups.
CHICKEN SCHNITZELS WITH RHUBARB
Rhubarb is versatile. It makes a sweet accompaniment for desserts and a savoury one for meats.
Rhubarb: 4 stalks rhubarb
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup water
Schnitzels: 500g chicken schnitzels
3/4 cup each: panko crumbs, ground almonds
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Cut the rhubarb into 2cm lengths. Combine with the sugar. Soak the raisins in the water for 30 minutes.
Cut the schnitzels into smaller pieces, if preferred.
Combine the panko crumbs and almonds on a plate. Dust the schnitzels in the seasoned flour, dip into the egg then coat in the breadcrumb mixture.
Pan-fry half the schnitzels in 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil for about 2-3 minutes on medium, turning several times. Cover and keep warm while cooking the remainder.
Wipe the pan and return to the heat. Add the rhubarb and brown sugar. Stir on medium until just caramelised and the rhubarb juices are released. Add the raisins and a 1/2 cup of the water. Simmer for 2 minutes until a sauce forms. Serve with the schnitzels. Serves 4.