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More Obscure Vegetables You Can Learn to Love – Chard

In our last episode of “Weird Veggies I Have Known and Learned to Love”, we talked kohlrabi; today it’s that ‘not quite celery – where’s the beet’ thing called Swiss Chard. Chard suffers from a branding problem – how good does it feel saying the word “chard”?


Broccoli – now THERE’s a word that has a good feel in your mouth – very Italian and dramatic — brock–o–li. “Chard” has no charm at all; they should have stuck with the name that they used to call it, “Silver Beet” – that at least has a little bit of charm to it. Even ‘spinach beet’ which was another name for it, is better. Chard? A marketing specialist would have a field day with this – let’s find the guy who came up with ‘the other white meat’ – that’s the guy we want to rebrand chard.

Why Swiss chard? Well, actually it’s actually a clever method by which the French(kings of all things obscure and clever) in the 19th century differentiated between this and various forms of spinach(because the leaves look a little bit like spinach). And since a Swiss botanist was the one to figure out that it’s part of the beet family, that’s where the Swiss came from – but the plant has been grown and eaten in the Mediterranean area for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote about it in the 4th Century BC and it was considered a great health tonic in ancient times.

And they were right. This veggie is filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and even a little bit of protein. It is frankly considered an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ source for everything it has. Nutritional content of chard

The only thing it hasn’t got is a bland taste, which as we all know, Americans especially crave in a vegetable. If a vegetable has pungency in any factor, Americans avoid it like the plague — really too bad since the more pungent a veggie is, the more good stuff, healthwise, that it has. Think about kale. Think about onions, Think about..well, think about chard. Regular chard(light green to white ribs and green leaves) is less pungent than ruby or yellow chard, but it is still good for you. I like growing ‘rainbow chard’(that is just a collection of seeds from all the varieties so that I get the white, red and yellow ribbed types all in my garden – it’s very decorative as well as yummy), but you can find individual types in terms of seeds.

Chard, like other beets, is rated ‘easy-peasy’ in my gardening experience. The seeds come in sort of a cluster formation and are easily handled and easily spaced out in a row. They are also pretty chill proof, so you can put them in early and I found with soil in the 50 degree range, they jumped right out of the ground in less than a week’s time and handled the early spring chill and rain very easily. The trick with chard is to keep it well watered and when you harvest it, cut it off leaving the bottom two inches of the stalks. Keep it well watered and the chard will come back so that you have a ‘cut and come again’ crop. Chard is at its best when it is young – only let it grow to be about 10” or a foot tall before you harvest it and use it right away. Tall chard with big leaves is tough and woody and very pungent, especially if it was grown on dry ground in hot weather. Early chard, on moist cool soil is much less pungent and very nice.

You can eat chard fresh or cooked. Just make sure you treat the leaves like spinach, in that you need to rinse them very very well to get off any soil or sand. There are a few recipes to get you started:

The way we serve it at our house: Wash the chard well. Strip off the leafy parts and chop up the stems coarsely. Sautee two cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped(you might like yours more finely chopped). Add the chopped stems and cover the pan until the chard starts to get limp; then add the leaves and cover to steam. Serve when the leaves are limp over pasta with grated parmesan or other Italian cheese.

Swiss Chard Asparagus: Choose young chard – the stems should definitely be less than 1 inch across at the base. Wash well and strip off the leaves – use them in salad just like you would spinach. Lay the chard ribs in a flat bottomed pan slightly larger than they are with a little liquid – try something interesting like white wine. Steam and serve.

Stuffed Cabbage a la Chard: Choose chard with the biggest green leafy parts you can find. Wash well and cut off right at the base of the leaf. If the ribs are not too big, you can use those for another meal; store in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel). Cut out the rib base of the leaf. Mix up whatever filling you would use for stuffed cabbage or if you like Greek stuffed grape leaves, for that dish. Put the leaves in a big bowl and pour simmering water over them to wilt. Take out and put a big spoonful of filling on each leaf, rolling and wrapping it just like making stuffed cabbage. Put into a pan with some liquid (again, could be a little water, a little wine, some tomato sauce; whatever you use for the dish usually) and simmer to cook. Serve.

Chard Recipes from a UK site – they are very big on chard in the UK
Food Network Recipes

Try it. Then try it again. Learn to like chard. If you have to tell yourself ‘It’s good for me’, then so be it. It IS good for you. Put more colorful and flavorful veggies into your diet. It really IS good for you.

Eat your greens. This is one of them.

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  1. Laura says:

    Yum! I love chard in lasagne (instead of spinach) and frittattas–also sauteéd with onions and balsamic vinegar and served over polenta. We’ve got bunches growing in the garden and I’m eyeing them daily…can’t wait to start harvesting. Thank you Toby.

  2. kathleen says:

    I like chard already! They cook it in risotti in Italy and in minestrone. delicious!

  3. Aunt Toby says:

    Kathleen – I was hoping someone was going to say something about soup. I remember reading once about using it in soup but could not for the life of me recall WHICH soup it was!! Thank you!

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