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Eric Akis: Right on! It’s rhubarb season

B.C. rhubarb is in season and today I’ve used it in two quite diverse ways. My first recipe sees rhubarb added to a baked good that might be nice to serve for Sunday brunch: rhubarb coconut muffins.

B.C. rhubarb is in season and today I’ve used it in two quite diverse ways. My first recipe sees rhubarb added to a baked good that might be nice to serve for Sunday brunch: rhubarb coconut muffins.

To make them, diced raw rhubarb is mixed into a batter also rich with shreds of coconut. That rhubarb releases moisture into the muffins making them appealingly moist, even a few days after you’ve baked them.

Also adding moisture to the muffins is buttermilk. The recipe uses half cup of it, which means you’ll have buttermilk leftover if you bought a new carton of it for the muffins. But you can refrigerate it and later use that buttermilk in such things as other baked goods, pancakes, salad dressings, mashed potatoes and marinades for fried chicken.

The recipe yields 12 large muffins. If that’s too many for you, freeze the ones you won’t eat now, to later thaw, warm and enjoy at another time. Or, do what I did; share some muffins with your family or neighbours.

My second recipe is a savoury one that sees cooked rhubarb puréed in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce that I slathered on grilled chicken breasts. The earthy, sour tasting rhubarb gave the sauce a surprising depth of flavour.

The recipe yields about two cups of rhubarb barbecue sauce, more than you’ll need for the chicken. That’s a good thing because the leftover sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in a tight sealing jar for up to two weeks. It could also be frozen. Beyond chicken, you can also brush the sauce on pork ribs, pork chops, kebabs, sausages and burgers.

Rhubarb Coconut Muffins

The raw pieces of rhubarb added to the batter for these perfect-for-late-spring muffins become tender when baked and add appealing moisture to them.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 22 minutes
Makes: 12 large muffins

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

3/4 cup medium unsweetened coconut flakes (divided; see Note)

1 3/4 cups diced fresh rhubarb (see Note)

• vegetable oil spray

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until well combined.

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and 1/2 cup of the coconut in second bowl and whisk to combine. Add the rhubarb and stir to coat it with the flour mixture. Add these dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.

Lightly spray a 12-cup, non-stick muffin pan with vegetable oil spray. Spoon the batter evenly into the cups. Sprinkle top of each muffin with 1 tsp of remaining coconut.

Bake muffins in the centre of the oven 22 minutes, or until a muffin in the middle of the pan springs back when gently touched in the centre. Cool muffins in the pan on a rack 10 minutes. Unmould and serve warm or at room temperature.

Note 1: Diced in this recipe, and the chicken recipe below, means to cut into fairly small 1/4-to 1/2- cubes. Two medium to large, cleaned and trimmed stalks of rhubarb should yield the amount needed here.

Note 2: Coconut flakes are also called desiccated coconut or shredded coconut. Bags of it are sold in the baking supply aisle of supermarkets.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Rhubarb BBQ Sauce

This grilled, smoky tasting chicken is brushed with a sweet and tangy rhubarb barbecue sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 25 minutes
Makes: six servings

For the sauce

1 cup diced rhubarb

1/2 cup water

2 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup diced onion

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp Dijon mustard

• splash Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco or hot pepper sauce

For the chicken

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the grill

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp ground sage

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

Place rhubarb and water in a small pot and set over medium, medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, lowering heat to maintain simmer. Cook the rhubarb until tender, about five minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the 2 tsp oil in a medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook and stir two to three minutes. Add the cooked rhubarb and its liquid, ketchup, sugar, honey, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire and Tabasco (or other hot pepper sauce) and mix to combine.

Bring mixture to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Cook the mixture 10 minutes, or until lightly thickened. Now puree the mixture in the pot with hand (immersion) blender, or do that in a food processor or blender. Set sauce aside until needed (see Eric’s options).

To cook chicken, preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Combine the 2 Tbsp oil, oregano, sage, paprika, salt and pepper for the chicken in a bowl large enough to hold the latter. Add the chicken and toss to coat.

Lightly oil the bars of your grill, if prone to sticking. Grill the chicken four to five minutes per side, or until cooked through. Brush each breast generously with some of the barbecue sauce. Let the sauce heat through a minute or so, and the chicken is ready to serve.

Eric’s options: You can make the barbecue sauce many hours in advance. Once cooled to room temperature, store sauce in a tight sealing jar in the refrigerator. The leftover sauce you’ll after brushing some on the chicken will keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks. It could also be frozen.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.