Conscious Cook: A celebration of spring

“The world’s favorite season is spring. All things seem possible in May.” — Edwin Way Teale

The scent of spring is so clean and restorative, it feels as though anything is possible. Delicate pink and white blooms flutter in the breeze, the lovely lilt of lilacs perfumes the air, and the endless array of color is a glorious salute to the season.

Perennial spring plants are bursting with life. Slender shoots of chives are ready for snipping, asparagus will soon poke through, and robust rhubarb is ready for picking.

Many cooks applaud the arrival of spring rhubarb. Its unique flavor and flexibility make it a wonderful celebratory ingredient for so many spring occasions. Tart and tangy, rhubarb requires a bit of sugar to tame its exuberance. Sweet, succulent strawberries are a perfect partner, but other berries or fruits, such as orange, apple, pear and peach will also lend a layer of lusciousness.

Rhubarb

Rhubarbs’ brightness will add delicious depth to baked goods, such as tea loaves, tarts, cakes, pies, and crisps. Cooked down until quite soft, rhubarb can be transformed into a sensational syrup. Or combine the cooked rhubarb with dried cherries, a bit of hot pepper and sweet onion for a scrumptious chutney to serve with grilled chicken or pork. Or mix with blueberries, ginger and brown sugar for a lovely breakfast compote to spoon on top of oatmeal, French toast or yogurt.

There are almost as many health benefits to rhubarb as there are ways to prepare it. Rich in dietary fiber and protein, rhubarb is a low-calorie food that may provide cholesterol lowering potential. As a potent source of calcium and vitamin K, eating rhubarb could promote better bone health. Traditionally used as a cure for constipation, rhubarb might be useful as a digestive aid. The vitamin C content in rhubarb could improve vision while the vitamin A supplies antifungal and antibacterial benefits, as well as anti-aging possibility.

At the market, choose crisp stalks, with a nice tinge of red to them. The more color in the stalks, the more color will be revealed in your recipes. Never eat rhubarb leaves, they can be toxic. To store your rhubarb cut off the leaves, wash and dry the stalks, wrap in paper towel and refrigerator for several days. Rhubarb can be frozen for several months by washing and drying well, cutting into even pieces and placing into freezer bags. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag.

Celebrate spring with rhubarb and prepare a delicious life.

Rhubarb Syrup

4-5 cups washed, dried, rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring every so often until rhubarb is very soft. Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Pour the rhubarb mixture into the strainer and press with the back of a spoon until liquid is extracted. Carefully pour syrup into a glass bottle or jar. Discard solids or enjoy as a rough jam on toast. Store syrup in refrigerator for several weeks. To serve, pour some syrup into a glass, add seltzer, plenty of ice and a mint leaf. Or add to your favorite lemonade or cocktail recipe or serve over ice cream.

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.