Conscious Cook recommends rhubarb to lift pandemic spirits

“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.” — William Shakespeare

In the midst of the current pandemic, conscious cooks are challenged to feed the bodies and souls of their families and themselves. We are watching as our annual celebrations are canceled or postponed. It can be difficult to keep up our spirits during these tremulous times. As the rough winds of uncertainty rattle our world, the comfort that can be provided by a nutritious meal is more meaningful than ever.

Local farmers and their produce will be greatly appreciated this year, perhaps more so than ever. Seasonal crops remind us that nature continues to persevere, and so will we. As seasonal crops begin to mature, we can look forward to fresh peas, asparagus, lettuces, herbs and rhubarb.

Rhubarb is a magnificent spring crop. The puckery, sour sweetness of rhubarb is absolutely divine in cakes, breads, pies, cobblers and jams, as well as sweet and savory compotes, chutneys and sauces. Savory rhubarb chutney, cooked with onions and hot pepper is a scintillating accompaniment to grilled pork, chicken or shrimp. Sweeter versions employing brown sugar and lemon peel are superb served with pancakes, French toast, waffles or pound cake. Ladled atop frozen yogurt or ice cream, sweet rhubarb sauce is perfect for a spring sundae when the sun burns bright. This same sauce can be strained to yield a perfectly pink syrup. Combine with cold sparkling water or seltzer for a refreshing mocktail, or add to prosecco for a beautiful brunch beverage.

Rich in fiber, protein, vitamin C, potassium and calcium, rhubarb provides many valuable nutrients. A natural laxative, rhubarb may help ease constipation. In fact, it is written that rhubarb was utilized in ancient Chinese medicine for treating stomach ailments. The vitamin K found in rhubarb may help strengthen bones, as well as possibly inhibiting inflammation in the brain. Rhubarb also supplies the body with vitamin A, which may help diminish signs of aging, particularly skin damage.

When choosing rhubarb at the supermarket or farm markets, look for glossy, firm stalks. Trim the leaves off when you bring your rhubarb home, as they are toxic. Store the stalks wrapped in a paper towel in your vegetable drawer. Wash before using. Rhubarb freezes beautifully, place chopped stalks on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place in the freezer. When the chunks are frozen, store them in freezer bags and use within one year.

Stay safe and continue preparing a delicious life during these perplexing days!

Challenge Chutney

Makes about 3 cups

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper

4 cups rhubarb (washed and chopped)

1/2 cup chopped sweet onion

1/3 cup raisins (golden can be used)

In a large saucepan combine the sugar, vinegar, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, pepper flakes or cayenne pepper and cloves. Reduce heat, simmer, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.

Add in the rhubarb, onion and raisins. Cook and stir over medium heat until the rhubarb is tender and the mixture has thickened slightly. Let cool. Serve with grilled chicken pork, or fish. Or spread toast with cream cheese and top with chutney for an hors d’oeuvre.

Merry May Rhubarb Compote

Makes 1- 11/2 cups

2, 3 pounds fresh rhubarb, washed and chopped

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup white or brown sugar

2 tablespoons grated lemon or orange rind

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to medium-high and stir often until rhubarb completely breaks down. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and cool.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener and a graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.