Rhubarb is one of the first food plants ready for harvest each spring. Bright red stalks start appearing at the market just about the same time as strawberries, making strawberry-rhubarb combinations a natural.
Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? We eat the stalks so it’s a vegetable like celery, right?
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but the United States Customs Court ruled in 1947 that rhubarb is a fruit, because it’s used mainly as a fruit, in sweetened dishes. The court was asked to rule because it was deciding if imported rhubarb would be taxed as a fruit or a vegetable, and fruits have lower duty rates.
Unfortunately, rhubarb doesn’t survive our summers. If you want to buy local rhubarb, you’ll have to move farther north. It thrives in colder climates, growing through the snow in places like Michigan and Vermont.
Rhubarb is valued for its tartness and its color. Stalks can range from bright crimson red to light pink. There are even some varieties that grow green stalks. They all taste pretty much the same, but consumers usually favor the brightest red varieties.
Sometimes you’ll find a few bits of leaf still attached to the stalk. Those should be removed. Some people say they’re poisonous. It’s true that the leaves contain oxalic acid, but you’d have to eat several pounds to consume a lethal dose. Still, you should remove them because they add nothing to the taste of your finished dish.
Most of us eat it cooked, stewed with sugar or baked into a pie with strawberries. It’s also enjoyed as rhubarb jam and fresh rhubarb juice, which is a nice alternative for making “lemonade” and a gorgeous pink color besides. My next experiment will be quick pickled rhubarb with just a little vinegar, sugar and salt. Perfect for a nibble with cocktails.
When buying rhubarb, look for firm, glossy stalks. Wrap them loosely and put into your vegetable crisper, where they’ll keep for up to two weeks if they’re really fresh.
Rhubarb-Strawberry Salsa with Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 20 minutes Serves: 4
I’d never eaten rhubarb raw until I created this recipe, inspired by a number of different versions I found in my reading. It’s delicious, crunchy and tart. The chopped rhubarb reminds me a little of tomatillos. It works perfectly in salsa.
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime, divided
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 (20-ounce) pork tenderloin, trimmed
¾ cup diced rhubarb (about ¼ pound)
¼ cup diced strawberries (about 2 large)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, or to taste
1 teaspoon granulated sugar, more if needed
10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed
Preheat grill to very hot. Lightly oil grill grates.
In a small bowl, stir together olive oil, half the lime juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
Put tenderloin on plate and pour half of olive oil mixture over tenderloin. Rub oil mixture on all sides of tenderloin and set aside to rest at room temperature while grill heats. Reserve remaining olive oil mixture.
In a medium bowl, stir together rhubarb, strawberries, cilantro, jalapeño, remaining lime juice and sugar. Toss and season to taste with salt, pepper and additional sugar, if needed. Set aside until pork is cooked.
When grill is ready, cook pork tenderloin until its temperature reaches 145 degrees, turning to brown all sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove pork from grill, cover with foil and allow to rest.
In a quart-size microwave-proof bowl, steam spinach in microwave for 3 minutes or until just wilted. Remove from microwave and toss with remaining olive oil mixture. Arrange on platter. Slice tenderloin in ½-inch pieces and arrange over spinach. Spoon salsa on platter and serve immediately.
Per serving: 320 calories (percent of calories from fat, 52), 32 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 19 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 92 milligrams cholesterol, 395 milligrams sodium.
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