November 3, 2004
Chard, also called Swiss chard, is a close botanical cousin with bulbous beets, although you’d never guess it from its appearance or taste.
Some facts about chard:
A rainbow of colors: Chard is grown for its edible leaves, which are bright, deep green, and its stalk, which is white. Rhubarb chard has ruby red stalks, and busy botanists have gone even further than that. Bright Lights, a trademarked product marketed by the Salad Savoy Corp. of Salinas, Calif., is a rainbow chard. The leaves are still an emerald green, but the stalks can be white, pink, gold, orange or deep red. The Bright Lights chard holds its color when cooked, which is an important point, as many veggies lose their spectacular color as soon as the heat is on!
If you like spinach: You’ll like chard. Many people may remember an overcooked glob of watery olive green plopped unceremoniously next to the mashed potatoes. This is a man-made problem, not the chard’s fault. Chard has a crisper texture than spinach and a milder flavor.
The perfect purchase: When procuring your chard, look for firm, unblemished stalks (no woody areas, no brown spots) and crisp, deep green leaves. Chard has a longer shelf life than spinach, about three to four days in
the fridge, stored in a perforated container.
Handle with care: Don’t wash chard until you are ready to use it, and when you do wash it, take some care to remove all the sand. If some of the stalks look very thick, trim them off for even cooking. Once your chard is prepped (and you can go one further and separate the leaves from the stalks with kitchen shears so you can cook the leaves and stalks in different dishes), handle it lovingly. Remember, it’s meant to be a green, crisp veggie, not a mystery blob. Chard can be finely shredded and used raw, in salads, or as a garnish for soups and stews. Steam chard for only 5 to 8 minutes, just enough time to wilt and tenderize it. Serve immediately or chill, but don’t let your chard languish in the heat, as it will discolor and develop an off taste.
Cooked chard can be chilled, tossed with lemon or vinegar and olive oil and served as a cool veggie side dish. Braise chard in the oven with veggie or chicken stock (for only about 15 minutes) or saute it. As with all green veggies, avoid overcooking, using aluminum or iron pots (which cause discoloring) or prolonged covering, and use a bit of acid — lemon, vinegar, wine, tomato, etc. — to keep the bright color.
Chardery: Chard leaves can be used as wraps for savory fillings, such as stuffing, rice or meat, or they can be sauteed and added to pastas. Chop sauteed chard and use for a filling in lasagna and ravioli. A California hospital uses raw chard in its Waldorf salad, and Le Cirque 2000 (in the Big Apple) serves a cod garnished with chard and beans. Areo’s (in Brooklyn) serves a rigatoni with chard, mushrooms and calamari.
And good for you, too: Raw chard is an excellent source of vitamin C; cooked chard has a little less. Along with only 20 calories for 4 ounces, cooked chard will give you potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamin B6. No excuse for not getting your iron, potassium and vitamin C — just add chard to your menu!