April Food of the Month: Ruby Red Rhubarb

There’s nothing like the bright red stalk of rhubarb poking out of the ground to remind us that spring is on the way. Famed for being among the first sign of color in a garden, rhubarb is known as a baker’s best friend as it pairs well with fruits, but its tartness makes it an excellent accompaniment to more savory dishes in the form of marinades and sauces. Like lemon, it can add a welcome acidic touch to chicken, pork and some fish, especially salmon. It also works instead of lemons in a rhubarb un-lemonade-ade. One cup of diced, raw rhubarb is only 26 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of fiber. It is a good source of magnesium and a very good source of fiber, vitamins C and K, calcium, potassium and manganese.

Health Benefits

Although used for centuries in herbal medicine for a variety of ailments, studies are limited for conclusive outcomes. Clinical research specifically on the anti-cancer potential of rhubarb exists, but again is limited for any conclusions to be drawn. What we do know is that eating the whole food, as nature made it, will always yield health benefits. Rhubarb possesses several antioxidants, including vitamin C and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin (the bright red color was a give-away), which may protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and lung. Vitamin K, calcium and magnesium are good for bone health and potassium has beneficial effects on blood pressure. And, quite simply, incorporating rhubarb into your diet increases your vegetable variety and intake, which is recommended for good health and cancer prevention in general.

   

Season, Selection and Storage

Peak season is April – June, though hothouse varieties are available year around. When selecting this pseudo-fruit veggie, look for moderately thin, crisp, dark pink to red stalks. Greener, thicker stalks are stringier, courser and more sour. If the leaves are still on, bright green, fresh looking leaves will also signal a healthy specimen. Discard the leaves before using as their high levels of oxalic acid make them toxic. Fresh rhubarb is quite perishable so place the stalk in a plastic bag (think Ziploc) to retain moisture and store for up to 3 – 5 days in the refrigerator crisper drawer. If I’m not going to use the stalks until closer to 5 days, I’ll sometimes wrap a wet paper towel around them for added moisture because I find the fridge dehydrates food no matter what storage vesicle is used. Finally, one handy bit of information to know for cooking purposes: plan on one pound of rhubarb to equal three cups of raw sliced rhubarb.

Pork Chops with Rhubarb-Cherry Sauce 
Recipe adapted from marthastewart.com

(Note: Chicken breast can easily be substituted for pork chops if desired.)

Ingredients

  • 4 pork loin chops, 6-8 ounces each
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 8 ounces rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine the dried cherries with balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of hot water; let stand for 10 minutes to soften.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-low heat. Add onion; cook until softened, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the cherry mixture, rhubarb, and sugar to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb has softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.
  4. Season both sides of pork chops with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Cook pork until they are browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Serve topped with warm sauce.

 

Liv Scheinbaum is completing her dietetic internship and MS degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.

References:

American Institute for Cancer Research. Edible Spotlights: In Season. 2008. Accessed on April 11, 2015 from http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?id=13371&page=NewsArticle.

Filippone, P. T. About.com. Rhubarb Selection and Storage. Accessed on April 11, 2015 from http://homecooking.about.com/od/howtocookvegetables/a/rhubarbstorage.htm.

Martha Stewart. Pork Chops with Rhubarb-Cherry Sauce recipe and image. Accessed on April 11, 2015, from http://www.marthastewart.com/317741/pork-chops-with-rhubarb-cherry-sauce#Rhubarb%20Recipes|/275393/rhubarb-recipes/@center/1009726/spring-produce|317741.

Jacobi, D. Discover Rhubarb Un-Lemonade. American Institute for Cancer Research. Something Different (July 1, 2013). Accessed on April 14, 2015 from http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=22479&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=pr_hf_.

Liv Lee, MS, RDN

Liv Lee has a Masters degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

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