Other Names: Chard, leaf beet, seakale beet, spinach beet.
General Description: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris, Cicla group) is a close relative of the beet root grown for its large green leaves and thick edible stalks. Chard has been traced back to the famed hanging gardens of Babylon. The name derives from the Latin for “thistle” and came to refer to two plants grown for their stalks—cardoon and chard. In the 19th century, seed catalogs started adding the word “Swiss” to distinguish chard from the look-alike but unrelated cardoon. Swiss chard’s leaves are similar to beet greens but are larger, wider, and flatter, with mild flavor and full-bodied texture similar to spinach.
The stalks of Swiss chard are completely edible; in fact, in Europe they are considered the best part of the plant and the leaves are often thrown away. There are thin-stemmed and thick-stemmed chard varieties. Ruby chard has brilliant red stalks and leaf veins and is usually thin-stemmed. Rainbow chard has stems colored yellow, ruby red, and white.
Season: Swiss chard is widely available April through November.
Purchase: Look for fresh green leaves that are moist, crisp, and unwilted. Check that the stems are also juicy and crisp.
Avoid: Yellowed or browned leaves are subpar; leaves with tiny holes indicate insect damage.
Storage: Wrap unwashed Swiss chard in damp paper towels, then place in a plastic bag; store in the refrigerator crisper for 3 to 5 days.
Note: Unless the chard is young, the stalks should be separated from the leaves and cooked longer.
- Separate the leaves from the stems.
- Swirl the leaves in a large bowl of cool water.
- Lift out, letting the sand and grit settle; repeat if necessary.
- Wash stems separately under cool running water.
Note: Don’t cook Swiss chard in an aluminum pot;
the chard contains oxalic acid, which will discolor the pot.
Serving Suggestions: Wrap seasoned fish fillets in blanched Swiss chard leaves and then bake. Sauté blanched Swiss chard in olive oil with sliced garlic, then add currants or golden raisins and toasted pine nuts. Substitute Swiss chard leaves for spinach when making ravioli, manicotti, or cannelloni.
Flavor Affinities: Anchovies, capers, cured meats, cured olives, garlic, hot chile pepper, lemon, olive oil, onions, orange and lemon zest, raisins and currants, sweet spices, vinegar.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com