by Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet

“Rhubarb and patience can work wonders.” Old German proverb

Rhubarb is a bit of a venomous beast with beautiful delicious stalks. It is a rather dinosaur looking plant with long lovely red stalks and spiky big leaves. The red stalks are edible and are the darling of the pie world. The beastly part of rhubarb is the leaves which have toxic levels of oxalic acid. My sister-in-law had 3 of her sheep die one year after getting into her rhubarb patch and eating the leaves! (Consequently the leaves can make an effective organic insecticide for any of the leaf eating insects.) So you can see the beauty and the beast, all in one ancient plant.

Rhubarb has a pretty interesting history. Its roots are in China, most likely the colder regions of Mongolia or Siberia.  It has been used in China for thousands for years as a medicinal plant in its dried form. In fact, for a few hundred years, dried rhubarb was more precious than cinnamon and opium!  It has only been in the last couple hundred years that it has been cooked up and served to loved ones. (or to enemies, depending on the part of the plant you use!)

Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing it to North America in 1772, though it didn’t catch on till in the 1800’s as the “pie plant.” It experienced what was called “Rhubarb Mania” right before World War II where it was an extremely popular dessert foundation. World War II took this beauty off its pedestal due to sugar rations (as rhubarb needs sugar to round out its tartness) and it has never regained its original popularity.

Rhubarb is loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients and Vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and has a potential role in bone health by promoting bone formation and strengthening activity. Adequate vitamin-K levels in the diet help limiting neuronal damage in the brain; thus, has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It also possesses a high amount of fiber, calcium and Vitamin Bs and C. One side note, rhubarb should be avoided if you have a tendency toward kidney stones.

Due to rhubarb’s tart flavor it is commonly paired with sugar and mostly cooked up into desserts. It is a challenge to find a way to use rhubarb in a savory way but this bbq chicken dish really does the number! The bbq sauce is great on tofu and pork too and stores well in the fridge for up to a month.

I suggest making the sauce on a lazy day and then you have it on had to whip this dish out on the busiest of weekdays. Don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. Making BBQ sauce is easy and fun. It is also so much healthier for us as it isn’t loaded with preservatives and food colorings. Once you make your own, you’ll never go back!

Grilled Chicken Kabobs or thighs with rhubarb BBQ sauce

The BBQ sauce;

1 TBLS of high heat oil such as coconut oil or avocado

1/2 large onion diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2.5 cups of 1”cubed rhubarb

1/2 cup of water

1/3 of maple syrup or brown sugar

1/4 cup of ketchup

2 TBLS of vinegar (dealer’s choice)

1/2 tsp of chipotle chili powder

1 TBLS of Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

In a large non-reactive skillet (don’t use cast iron) heat up the oil over medium high heat and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Sauté stirring often till they become translucent and fragrant, about 5 mins, then dump in the rhubarb. Sauté a few minutes more then add the water and stir till well blended. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and stir till everything gets to know each other well.

Stir every few minutes till the mixture starts to boil then reduce the heat to medium low or just to where it is on a low simmer. Let it simmer, stirring every few minutes, for 10 or so minutes till the rhubarb grows soft and dissolves. Cool and use on the chicken. This delicious sauce can be store in the fridge for up to a month.

Grilled chicken kabobs or thighs

2 TBLS of olive oil

8 bone in chicken thighs

OR 2 large chicken breasts cut into 1.5” pieces

Salt and pepper

Rhubarb BBQ sauce, separated in half

For kabobs;

4-6 wooden bamboo skewers soaked in hot water for 30 mins


Chopped onion

Prepare the chicken by brushing the chicken thighs with the olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. If you are making kabobs, thread the chicken onto skewers with the mushroom and chopped onion dispersed among the chicken.  Brush the kabobs with the oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When you chicken is prepared, light up the grill and heat to high. Separate the BBQ sauce into two bowls and reserve one in the fridge for serving with the cooked chicken. Carefully place your chicken thighs or kabobs onto the grill and close the lid. After 6 mins for the thighs and the kabobs, carefully turn and then brush with the a bowl filled with half the rhubarb BBQ sauce. Close the lid and cook for 4-5 more mins for the kabobs and 6 more mins for the thighs.

Turn again and brush with more BBQ sauce and close the lid one more time and let the kabobs cook for just a couple more mins and the thighs for another 6-10 mins. Brush with more BBQ sauce and remove the kabobs. Check a thigh by cutting into it. If it is still pink inside, turn the thighs and brush with more sauce and cook for a few more mins till done. Discard the used BBQ sauce and serve with the reserved BBQ sauce. (To prevent cross contamination)

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