Chard, from Wikimedia Commons, photo by Forest and Kim Starr
I’m finding more and more things to do with the beautiful leafy green that is Swiss Chard, more specifically, the mix of varieties known as “Bright Lights” or “Rainbow” chard. This is a spectacular plant. Unlike many leafy greens, Chard stands up to summer’s heat (at least it has in Minnesota) and will bravely produce masses of gorgeous leaves with beautifully colored stalks and veins from the coolest spring to first frost. (Your experience may vary especially if you live in a very hot location.) You can even grow it in your flower bed, it’s so pretty. Or in the kitchen on the windowsill.
Don’t be afraid to try this green! If you love spinach, you’re in for a treat. Chard is milder than spinach, often a lot less sandy. If you dread kale or collards because of the tough membranes and stalks—Chard is easy. In my experience, even the biggest leaves don’t get as tough as kale or collards—and you can eat the stalks and membranes. (As a matter of fact, those are Apple’s favorite bits.) Oh, and did you catch that? YOU CAN EAT THE STALKS! Don’t throw them away! I can’t believe I saw a picture of someone’s proud harvest of rainbow chard… where they left the stalks standing naked and alone in the garden! Dice them up. They might need to cook longer than the leaves, but they’re tasty, colorful, and TASTY. And pretty!
Baby chard leaves are welcome in salads, adding an earthy, green note like spinach, but without the tongue-drying aftereffect that spinach sometimes has. One of our favorite ways to eat them: a simple saute. The stalks are diced up and sauteed with onions in a mix of olive oil and butter (or just the oil, or even coconut oil, which will tempt even the most reluctant into trying the greens since it smells divine). Once the stalks and onions are tender, the leaves are rough chopped, just roll them together and whack your chef knife through in about 1 inch or so sections. Toss into the pan with the softened stalks and onions, and cook gently until just wilted. (Note: older, bigger leaves, or those huge, huge leaves you get at the grocery store, might have to cook longer. The leaves I harvest are all between hand-length to twelve inches (not counting the stalks). Add some pepper, maybe even a whiff of cinnamon, a sprinkle of sea salt, and it’s done. Alternatively, for an Asian flair, you can saute in peanut oil and use shoyu, toss in sesame seeds at the end.
Adding grain can make this a complete vegetarian meal. I like to use a mix of white, brown, and wild rice, red and white quinoa, millet, barley, and faro (a variety of wheat. Of course if you can’t have wheat, leave that out!) If you can have wheat—another dynamite combo we had just tonight as a side dish was bulgur wheat with red and white quinoa. I just mixed the sauteed stalks/onions and grains together in the same pot, and then added the chopped greens, and let them steam together for a while before serving.
Chard is also excellent in a quiche or fritatta. One of the loveliest summer breakfasts I can ever make features lots of chard, bell peppers, onions, and herbs from my garden in scrambles and quiches, or sauteed and served 0ver eggs cooked any way. (Preferably with a nice big spoonful of my green tomato chutney or home-canned salsa on the side–both of which are REALLY excellent with eggs.)
One thing I want to try with chard: dolmas. Traditionally, they are made with grape leaves, but I want to try them with chard. I found the tiny dolmas to be perfect snacking food: lemony, minty, spiced grains wrapped in a green leaf, the Middle Eastern version of rice in a seaweed wrapper? In any case, dolmas would be a tasty cold snack to keep on hand and I know at least my sister and I would love them.
I love rainbow chard so much that the vegetable “yellowstem” in my JTN sci fi action series is based on it. (Only yellowstem has the added advantage of a bit of a tangy, citrusy taste.)
Growth and harvest is easy. Chard will even grow in part-sun (I haven’t tried it in shade yet). If possible, bend the chosen stalk away from the plant, flat to the ground–it should break off naturally. Or cut at ground level, being careful not to cut any smaller, interior leaves you might want to grow larger. When you get the leaves inside, rinse them in cool water, paying attention to the undersides where grit (and maybe a little bug or two) might be clinging. If you’re not going to use them right away, leave the dampness on the leaves and roll them up in a tea towel or some paper towels. They will store for a while. I like to rinse the leaves and re-dampen the towel daily. If they look a little wilty, trim a bit off the stalks if the ends look dried out and completely submerge the entire leaf, stem and all, in some water for a while. Perkiness should return in an hour or so, at which point you can prep and cook. Leaves can be blanched and frozen, as can the stalks. (Separately from each other works best, since they’ll need different cooking times anyway.) Just google for Swiss Chard recipes and you’ll find ooodles of them!
To find out more about growing Swiss Chard, visit http://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-swiss-chard/