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Pucker up for a pie plant!

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Rhubarb - You either love it or you don't. There isn't much waffling when it comes to declaring your preference for 'pie plant.'

It's one of the first plants up in our gardens each spring, and among the first ready to harvest. I've already cut from my rhubarb plant twice this spring. You can usually get a harvest in May and a second one in July.

We eat the petioles or stalks, which can range in color from light green to speckled pink to deep red. The green-stalked rhubarb is supposedly more robust and has a higher yield, but the stalk's color has no bearing on how well it cooks. The red petioles are more popular to cook with because the red coloring makes for a beautiful presentation.

Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous oxalic acid, and are not to be eaten by humans or pets. Oxalic acid is a corrosive and nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidney) acid. In the petioles the amount of oxalic acid is much lower, especially when harvested before mid-June, but evidently there is still enough acid in the stalks to cause slightly rough teeth.

The plant is indigenous to Asia and has a long history of medicinal use in traditional Chinese medicine. Evidently, for the past 5,000 years, the root and stems of the rhubarb have been used as a laxative, earning the vegetable the reputation of being a 'slimming agent.' Don't worry - the articles I read indicated massive quantities of rhubarb had to be ingested to achieve those results. A slice of rhubarb pie won't cause that effect.

Rhubarb is high is calcium oxalate, which blocks absorption of calcium not only in the ingested rhubarb itself, but also from any other foods eaten at the same time, like a glass of milk or a scoop of ice cream. Again, that's not a big enough deterrent to keep me from eating it.

Here are a couple positive aspects about rhubarb: It is an effective counter-agent for scurvy, should you ever get that disease, and it is low in calories with only about 20 per cup. However, to those 20 calories you will be adding those hundreds of sugar calories needed to cook it …

I like rhubarb and always have, though I'll admit to enjoying the sugary sweet juices of a rhubarb pie more than the tart pulp as a youngster. Eating rhubarb pie reminds me of my grandmother Etta Sue Smith. A genius in the kitchen, her rhubarb pies were the perfect blend of sweet and tart, lovingly wrapped in the flakiest crust and served still warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream melting slowly on top.

Rhubarb - it's just a vegetable trying really hard to be a fruit. Enjoy it in a pie or other sweet treat, but before you do, taste its savory side in this recipe for Lemon-Rhubarb Chicken.

Bon Appetit! Try something new!

Lemon-Rhubarb Chicken

Serves 6

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons, plus ¼ cup chopped shallots

4 ½ cups diced rhubarb, divided

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel, divided

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter

½ cup sliced unpeeled fresh ginger

¾ cup sugar

6 tablespoons brandy

4 cups low salt chicken broth

1 whole star anise

1 bay leaf

6 boneless chicken breast halves with skin

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons chopped shallots and 2 cups rhubarb; sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper. Cool rhubarb stuffing.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat. Add 2 ½ cups rhubarb, ¼ cup shallots, and ginger; sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to high. Add sugar and brandy; boil 1 minute. Add broth, star anise and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 1 hour. Strain sauce, discarding solids in strainer. Stir 1/3 cup rhubarb stuffing into sauce.

NOTE: Stuffing and sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover each separately and chill. Rewarm sauce before using.

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Using fingertips, separate skin from flesh of chicken breasts, forming pocket. Place about 2 tablespoons rhubarb stuffing in pocket. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add chicken breasts, skin side down, to skillet; cook until brown, about 7 minutes. Transfer chicken, skin side down, to roasting pan.

Roast chicken 10 minutes; baste with pan juices. Roast until cooked through, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to platter, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon peel, and serve, passing sauce alongside.

Bon Appetit, Feb. 2007

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mailing brandall@lakeoswe

goreview.com .

Five:30

A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes! This is perfect for a warm spring evening.

Cold Minted Pea and Buttermilk Soup

Serves 4

20 ounces peas, fresh or frozen

1 1/2 cup chicken broth

4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

2 cups buttermilk

In a medium-sized saucepan simmer the peas in the broth, covered, for 10 minutes. Transfer half of the mixture to a blender, add the half of the mint and half of the buttermilk, and puree until smooth. Transfer the soup to a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and chill it. Repeat with remaining pea mixture, mint and buttermilk. Chill and stir occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until it is cold.