Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Rainbow Chard

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
This week, we’re honing in on rainbow chard. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking—that, in the words of the wonderful Deborah Madison, “…chard isn’t really all that exciting.” Regardless of chard’s wow-factor (or lack thereof), Madison does point out a few characteristics that are perhaps more important than the degree to which it excites the dedicated eater—namely, chard’s reliability, its usefulness and its pleasantness to work with. So, if you have yet to give chard a try, read on and then go out and get yourself some of this humble, highly nutritious vegetable!
Chard is a relative of spinach and beets. Unlike the beet, however, the majority of chard’s nutrients are concentrated in its leaves. Interestingly enough—and in great contrast to the sturdy beet—chard roots are inedible. Chard leaves and stems, on the other hand, are quite edible! While the stems are crunchy and taste slightly sweet, the leaves are thick and have a deep “greens”  flavor similar to spinach and beet greens.  In fact, if you’re in a pinch, you can easily substitute chard for either of these two leafy greens.
People tend to associate chard with winter. While chard can grow throughout the year and does have a preference for cooler weather, its prime cultivation period spans from June to October. Although chard isn’t a fan of extreme heat, it’s unlikely to bolt, as is common with other vegetables like spinach, arugula and basil.
In the kitchen, chard is extremely versatile. Whether your method is to sauté, steam or braise, chard will play along quite nicely. In terms of basic preparation, stack leaves and stems on top of one another. Trim the ends, and then separate the stems from the leaves. The general rule for dealing with the different level of thickness between chard’s leaves and stems is to cook the leaves as you would spinach and the stems as you would asparagus. For instance, if you’re sautéing your chard with some olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and sea salt, cook the chopped stems until they’re relatively tender before adding the chopped leaves for a final few minutes on the heat.
I will include one disclaimer here. Due to its leaves being somewhat thick, chard doesn’t work well as a raw addition to salads (unless you’re using very young leaves). Feel free to toss raw leaves and stems into your blender or juicer, however, and it’ll be sure to give you a nutritional boost.
Speaking of nutrition, chard is reputed to be just as nutritious as kale. (What?! Yes, so eat up.) Its plethora of antioxidants qualifies chard as a superfood. Meanwhile, chard is an excellent source of vitamins K, A and C. Time for a fun fact! While a single serving of chard has only 35 calories, this same serving contains more than 300% of your daily vitamin K needs. You’ll also be getting a healthy dose of potassium, magnesium, iron and fiber with each forkful.
For storage purposes, remove the twist tie from your rainbow chard, wrap the bunch in paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
Sources: Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy; The Wisconsin Master Gardener Program: Swiss chard

Chard with Raisins & Pecans
Recipe sourced from Wild About Greens, by Nava Atlas.
Serves 4
1 bunch rainbow chard
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup marsala or other dry red wine
⅓ cup raisins
1 Tbsp capers, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

⅓ to ½ cup finely chopped pecans

  1. Cut the chard leaves away from the stems.  Trim about an inch from the bottom of the stems, then slice the stems thinly.  Stack a few leaves at a time and cut them into ½-inch ribbons.  Chop the ribbons in a few places to shorten them;  repeat this process with all the leaves.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Add the garlic and saute over low heat until golden.  Add the marsala wine and as much chard leaves & stems as will fit comfortably in the pan.  Cover and allow the greens to wilt down briefly;  continue to add the chard until all of it is in the pan.  Cook, covered, until the leaves are tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the raisins and the capers, if you’re using them, then season with salt and pepper.  Scatter the pecans over the top and serve at once either on its own or spooned over soft polenta or rice.

Green Pancakes with Swiss Chard
Recipe sourced from Clotilde Dusoulier’s book, The French Market Cookbook.
Serves 4
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt, to taste
4 large eggs (2 whole and 2 separated)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 Tbsp dry white wine
½ cup milk
8 ounces chard leaves, finely chopped
Olive oil for cooking
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and 1 tsp salt and form a well in the center.  Add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks and stir to mix with part of the flour from the mound.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Add the garlic and wine and then pour the milk in a slow stream, whisking as you go, until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture is creamy and mostly lump-free.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

  2. When ready to cook the pancakes, remove the bowl from the fridge and fold in the greens.
  3. In a clean bowl, beat the 2 egg whites with ¼ tsp salt with an electric mixer or a whisk until they form stiff peaks.  Fold them into the batter with a spatula, working in a circular, up-and-down motion to avoid deflating the egg whites.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp cooking olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Ladle about ¼ cup of the batter into the hot skillet, without flattening.  Repeat to form as many pancakes as will comfortably fit in the skillet, probably no more than 4.
  5. Cook until the edges are set and the pancakes are golden underneath 4 to 5 minutes.  Flip and cook until the other side is set and golden, 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to a warmed serving plate, grease the skillet again, and repeat with the remaining batter.  You should have enough to make 10 to 12 pancakes.
  6. Serve hot, adding a little more pepper and a sprinkling of salt on top.  

**Serving Note from the author of the recipe:  “They make for a lovely weeknight dinner, paired with a green salad, and they’re a welcome brunch item too.” 

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