I have just listened to Inside Julia's Kitchen, a podcast on Julia Child, this episode featuring Stephen Satterfield, a food writer, multimedia producer and global food origins explorer.
This led me to consider my choice for this edition of the vegetable of the month and I have chosen rhubarb.
At first, I was mixing up rhubarb with kohlrabi because of the exotic sounding names. My husband indicated that they are two completely different things. So here I am researching more about rhubarb now. Who knows, I might pick kohlrabi for my next article.
What is rhubarb?
Rhubarb is a modest perennial vegetable. Rhubarb is also called the pie plant because its stalks are used in strawberry pies (often with ginger), compotes and preserves, and usually eaten with sugar. Rhubarb has thick, sour, red to pink to pale green stalks, and large and triangular leaves. Only the stalks of the plant are edible, the leaves being poisonous as they contain toxic levels of oxalic acid. Even small amounts of leaves can cause nausea and vomiting. So do not eat the leaves, and keep them away from your children and pets.
Rhubarb is native to Asia. The roots of Chinese rhubarb have been used in medicine for thousands of years in China and Tibet.
The plant is also grown in North America and Northern Europe gardens. It needs a cold winter to grow and will produce colorful stalks in spring time.
In Turkey, there is a particular variety of wild rhubard, “Rheum ribes”, which in Turkish is known variously as “ışkın,” “uçkun,” “rebez” or “ohçun,” and in Anatolia it is called “yayla muzu” which is “meadow banana” in English because some people enjoy eating it raw after peeling it like a banana. Rhubarb grows in Eastern Turkey, mostly around the cities of Van, Erzurum, Tunceli, Bitlis and Siirt.
It grows at altitudes from 1000 to 4000 meters. After the snows melt away, peasants bring rhubarb to the villages to sell after June. It is very difficult to collect from the rugged mountains. After people collect rhubarb, they carry it down on horses or donkeys. It generally costs around two euros per kilo, while the peasants earn maybe only 40 cents on each kilogram for this hard work.
Rhubarb is bread and butter for many of these eastern families from April to July. My sister-in-law Serap, who is from Tunceli, eats rhubarb like a banana. In the Tunceli region, people also sauté it with butter and garlic. You can watch the shared YouTube videos to have a better idea of which type of rhubarb is consumed in Turkey.
What are the benefits of rhubarb?
There are a lot of nutritional reasons to consume rhubarb in our diets. Rhubarb is full of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, organic compounds, fibers, potassium, copper, iron and manganese.
Rhubarb, like the other vegetables, is high in fiber. Fiber is useful in lowering cholesterol levels. Rhubarb also offers vitamin K and calcium which are essential for keeping bones strong and healthy. And it is a low-calorie vegetable.
The plant is a rich source of beta-carotene (vitamin A), polyphenols (antioxidant), lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin A which helps to protect the skin and the retinas of the eyes. Antioxidants in rhubarb may help in prevention of cancer. Rhubarb improves blood circulation with its source of copper and iron. It helps digestion and soothes inflammation.
How to choose and eat rhubarb?
Rhubarb should be firm and crunchy, with perky leaves. Pay attention to the color as well, which should be lively. Rhubarb is easy to prepare. In the markets you will find rhubarb without leaves, because they are poisonous.
If you happen to see them with leaves, cut them off and discard immediately. Some of the stalks might be tough. Wash them well and remove the stringy ribs with a knife. Slice thinly. If your rhubarb is tender enough there is no need to peel it.
Some suggested ways of cooking rhubarb from BBC food:
Flavors that pair well with rhubarb are vanilla, ginger, orange and star anise.
a.To bake rhubarb:
Cut it into chunks.
Scatter with sugar, cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes until soft.
b.To poach rhubarb:
Cut into sticks.
Scatter with sugar, add a splash of water and simmer gently for 8 minutes until soft, or longer to cook it to a puree or compote.
I see some rhubarb at the supermarkets now, go and cook some, it is the season to eat rhubarb. Share your rhubarb dish and tag Global Seasons on Facebook or Instagram. Can’t wait to see it!