One of the most underappreciated treats of the season is rhubarb, the colourful, leafy perennial plant with numerous culinary uses.
Although the stalks have a pleasant tang, the leaves, which are toxic, should never be consumed.
Rhubarb is typically used in desserts and chutneys, but can be much more than just pie filling, as the recipe for rhubarb salad below makes clear.
These days, most grocery stores sell "pre-trimmed" rhubarb stalks devoid of leaves. But if you grow your own or have purchased it with the leaves on, cut the stems 1 to 2 inches below where the leaves sprout and use only the denuded stalks. Immediately discard both the top sections and the leaves.
Whether you think of rhubarb as a fruit or a vegetable - a New York court once classified it as a fruit so it would be taxed at a lower rate - its versatility is indisputable. Since its use as a base for jams and chutneys is well-known, try this recipe for savoury celery/rhubarb salad during your next spring dinner party. It makes an excellent companion and base - literally - for seared pork tenderloin.
Celery rhubarb salad
2 stalks celery, sliced into thin medallions
1 stalk rhubarb, sliced into thin medallions
4 stalks young rhubarb, sliced in half vertically, cut into equal 4" lengths
2 cups maple syrup, brought to a boil and left on low heat
1 teaspoon finely sliced chive
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Blanch rhubarb medallions in the heated syrup for 30 seconds or until soft. Strain and remove to a small bowl to let cool, keeping heated syrup at hand. Add celery, chive, thyme, oil and seasoning, mix gently by hand and set aside.
Blanch young rhubarb stalks in reserved maple syrup in small batches for 45 seconds or until soft. Remove to a lined tray using a large slotted spoon or spatula, being careful not to break the stalks.
Place 3 of the blanched rhubarb strips together on a plate as a base for your pork or serve alongside the meat. Spoon salad evenly over pork. The pork and topping can be served either warm or at room temperature.
Sebastien Centner is the director of Eatertainment Special Events in Toronto ( www.eatertainment.com).