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Rhubarb, which will be in markets through early summer, is an old-fashioned vegetable that gets little respect. Unlike other veggies that have made a resurgence, such as kale, turnip greens, beets and Brussels sprouts, rhubarb has been left behind. You don't see it on restaurant menus, and it doesn't take a place of honor in the produce department. But perhaps it should.

It's a versatile vegetable — yes, vegetable, even though we often tone down its tartness by adding sugar — that goes from pies and crumbles to more savory dishes, adding a depth of flavor to wild rice pilaf or as a sauce for grilled chicken thighs, among other uses.

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Anne Braly

When I lived in West Virginia, an elderly neighbor had a magnificent garden in her backyard, and she loved to share its bounty. One beautiful spring afternoon, as we sat on her front porch sipping iced tea and chatting, she told me about growing up in a nearby coal town. Though they were poor, they never went hungry thanks to a grandfather with a green thumb and a grandmother who was very creative in the kitchen. Rhubarb was one of those foods that was looked forward to every year because it grew prolifically and could be turned into delicious pies and sauces.

This neighbor also grew rhubarb in her garden and gifted me with some that afternoon. I thanked her and walked home, not knowing what I would do with it. I'd never eaten it, cooked with it or had recipes for it. This was in the 1980s, so I couldn't turn on a computer, type in "rhubarb recipes" and come up with thousands of ideas. I did have a small collection of cookbooks, so I could have spent an afternoon looking through them, but I had two young children and simply had no time for that. So I wrapped the rhubarb in plastic and put it in the refrigerator and there it stayed, getting pushed farther and farther into the depths of the refrigerator until time took its toll and the rhubarb went into the trash. What a sad ending for what I know now is an excellent food, packed with vitamins, fiber, potassium manganese — all those things we need.

Fresh rhubarb, with its cheery red stalks, looks a lot like celery. Unlike celery, though, it freezes well, so the rhubarb you buy today can be enjoyed months down the road. Select the tenderest stalks you can find, dice it and place it in freezer bags. Don't try to get creative with the leaves and use in a salad with other greens. They will make you sick.

This recipe for wild rice pilaf has what it takes to stand up to any of your grilled meats and fish. It's both sweet, tangy and crunchy with the addition of almonds. It also packs just a bit of heat thanks to a dash — or more — of cayenne pepper. I think it may become a favorite on your list of side dishes this year.

Rhubarb Rice Pilaf

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chopped rhubarb

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup golden raisins or craisins

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 cup cooked wild rice (see note)

1 cup cooked long-grain white rice (see note)

1/4 cup almonds, lightly toasted

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onion in hot oil until just translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Mix rhubarb into onion and garlic, and saute until slightly softened, about 2 minutes more.

Stir wine, raisins, cinnamon and cayenne pepper into rhubarb mixture; cover the skillet with a lid, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until rhubarb is tender to the bite but still firm, 5 to 8 minutes. Add honey and soy sauce; stir.

Mix wild rice and white rice into the rhubarb mixture; cook and stir until rice is heated through. Serve warm or at room temperature as a rice salad. Before serving, sprinkle toasted almonds over top.

Note: To simplify this recipe, use a wild-rice mix, such as Uncle Ben's or RiceSelect, making enough for 2 cups total.

CHANGES AT THE CHATTANOOGAN

Chef Tanner Marino continues to up the ante at The Chattanoogan. Now, he's created a new menu at The Foundry Lounge filled with even more choices, such as a selection of bites that includes Buffalo tots with blue cheese aioli and barbecue pork rinds with peanut hummus and pickled okra. There are also a number of entrees to enjoy with one of the new craft cocktails, such as steak frites; an open-face meatloaf sandwich with onion jam, mushrooms and roasted garlic aioli; and pan-seared salmon with red beans and rice, Cajun trinity, kielbasa, broccolini and voodoo sauce, the latter of which is my pick because that sounds too good to miss.

Also in the news at The Chattanoogan: For the first time in the hotel's food-service history, Broad Street Grille will not be serving dinner during the week — breakfast and lunch only, as well as the popular Sunday buffet. However, Marino pulls out all the stops on weekend evenings with the grill's magnificent seafood buffet on Fridays and the international buffet filled with choices from around the world on Saturday nights.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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