As I wandered around our local farmers’ market this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are in Cache Valley to have these summer months filled with fresh fruits and veggies. Every stand was over-flowing with dark leafy greens, beautiful radishes, and crisp rhubarb stalks. Although it was only 10am, I immediately started dreaming up ideas of all the fresh, colorful recipes I would soon enjoy.
I hope you are getting as much enjoyment out of this bounty of produce as I am! Today we are talking about another “in season” veggie. I hope that after reading this, you feel inspired to stock your kitchen with some bright red, green, or speckled rhubarb stocks so you can try some of these yummy recipes.
Did you know that rhubarb is actually a vegetable? I always associated rhubarb with pies and coffee cakes, so I just assumed it must be a fruit. Boy, was I wrong!
Rhubarb originated over 2,000 years ago in Asia and was prized for its medicinal properties. Today, rhubarb is used in everyday cooking and is loved for its uniquely tart taste.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the different parts of the rhubarb plant-
The rhubarb plant is composed of 3 main parts: the rhizome, petiole (stalk), and leaf. Rhubarb is a perennial plat which means that it grows back every year. The rhizome is the part that stays in the ground and produces a new plant each growing season. The petiole or stalk is the edible portion of the plant. These stalks are usually very long and look a bit like celery. The color is usually a vibrant pink/red and the texture is very fleshy and fibrous. The leaves are green and are actually poisonous when consumed. They contain high levels of oxalic acid which can cause the throat and mouth to swell. This blocks the airway and can be very dangerous. Just remove the leafy parts of the plant as soon as possible. Not only will this ensure that the leaves don’t accidentally get eaten, but it also stops the leaves from absorbing all of the nutrients that are held in the stalks.
Just like all fruits and veggies, rhubarb is packed with good-for-us nutrients. This includes a variety of B-Vitamins, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, fiber, and flavanoids.
Flavanoids act like antioxidants in the body. You can read how antioxidants work in this post: http://bigbiteslittlebudget.com/2014/04/24/eating-in-season-the-pineapple/.
Let’s go in depth and talk a bit more about a specific B Vitamin that is very important. Folate is a B Vitamin that works alongside Vitamin B12 to ensure healthy cell development. Along with cell development, folate also helps protect babies against neural tube defects (defects of the brain, spinal cord, or spine). These defects occur during the first month of pregnancy when the mother may not even know she is pregnant. Because of this, it is vital that women of childbearing age get an adequate amount of folate in their diet. It is recommended that women consume 400 micrograms (mcgs) of folate in their diet everyday; however, it is reported that the average daily intake is only 200 mcgs daily. In order to reach the recommended 400 mcgs, fill your plate with vegetables (especially rhubarb and dark, leafy greens), fruits, nuts, beans, dairy products, poultry, lean meats, and fortified cereal or grains.
When selecting rhubarb look for the following:
– Brightly colored stalks
– Fresh, firm, and crisp stalks
– No bruising or blemishes on the surface of the stalk
– If the green leaves are still attached to the stalks, remove them when you get home
Store washed rhubarb stalks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will typically last up to 3 weeks.