Friday, June 24, 2011

Focus: CHARD (Beta Vulgaris)

Chard is a flavorful, mild and nutritious workhorse vegetable.  It is a staple green in many kitchens.  Available from spring to fall, it can be used in soups, stir fries, salads, side dishes and quiches, frittatas and omelets.  It can be used in any recipe calling for spinach.  The very young and tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads.  But mostly chard needs to be cooked.

Chard is closely related to beets and is used similarly.  Both the bottom stems or stalks and the green leaves are edible - but need to be prepared differently.  The stems need longer cooking than the leaves and can be eaten like asparagus or else combined with the chard leaves in many dishes.

According to the Featherstone Farm Cookbook, chard is native to Sicily.  It was eaten by ancient Romans, Greeks and Arabs.  Chard is often called Swiss chard, because it was classified by a Swiss botanist named W.D.J. Koch.

One cup of chard contains 35 calories.  It is high in vitamins A, B, C and K and minerals magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and calcium.   Unlike spinach, chard does not contain oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of minerals.

Storage and preparation

Storage - Do not wash the chard leaves or remove stems before storing.  Place in ventilated or perforated plastic bag in the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator.  The leaves should keep at least a week if kept cool and dry.  Stems can last longer.
Washing - holding the leaves by their stems, wash vigorously in a pan or sink of water.  Dirt or sand can sometimes hide in the crinkly leaves.  Use your fingers to rub the stems a bit to remove any dirt clinging to them.  Drain.
Once the chard is washed, separate the stems from the leaves.  If the stem ends are discolored, just trim them by cutting off a small slice.

In general,  stems will take from 5 to as many as 15 minutes to cook - depending on size and age.  Leaves should cook in 3 to 6 minutes.

Freezing - Chard leaves freeze very well.  Just put washed leaves in briskly boiling water for two minutes.  Drain, cool in cold water, squeeze dry and coarsely chop if desired.  Place in plastic freezer bags or containers.

How much chard is in a "bunch"?
This is a mystery.  Many recipes call for a "bunch" of chard and do not define that by weight or volume.  It is up to the cook to decide how much is enough.  Many recipes calling for "a bunch of chard" can be quite flexible.  The cook can add more or less chard according to taste.

One pound of chard leaves, once cooked, results in about 3 cups of cooked chard, depending on whether the leaves are chopped.  A quarter pound of stems cooks down to about 2 cups.

Cooking Chard
When cooking, separate chard stems from leaves

This is what one pound of uncooked leaves and one quarter pound of uncooked stems looks like. This is a big bowl.

Steam or saute stems about 5 -15 minutes, depending on size.  Young and slender steams cook faster.

If you are steaming chard, just add leaves on top of the stems and cook 3-5 minutes longer

Drain and cool leaves before chopping

This is what one pound of leaves and one quarter pound of stems looks like after steaming and chopping.

In general, cooked chard can be used in any recipe calling for cooked spinach.  Like spinach, chard has an affinity for lemon, nutmeg, dill, olive oil, onions, pine nuts, walnuts, raisins, cheese, cream, eggs, and smoked or cured pork (bacon, pancetta, prosciutto).

Chard is excellent in soups, cooked with beans (such as cannellini or chickpeas), stir fried or lightly steamed.  It can be cooked and served at room temperature with some oil and vinegar and toasted pine nuts or walnuts as a salad or antipasto.

Baked chard casserole - serves six
Cook and chop chard stems and leaves.  You should end up with about 3 cups chopped cooked chard.  Lightly brown 1 cup chopped onion.  Beat together 6 eggs, 2 cups milk or half and half, 1 t. salt, 2 T. fresh chopped dill.  Add the chard and onion and some chopped ham if desired.  Bake at 350 degrees until set - about half an hour depending on the size of pan used.  For a more substantial dish, add 2 cups cubed bread along with 2 extra beaten eggs and an extra one cup milk.  You may also wish to increase the salt and dill.

Chard with hot bacon dressing
Cook chard stems and leaves just until tender.  Serve with hot bacon dressing.
Bacon dressing (enough for about 4 servings) :  Fry 4 pieces bacon.  Remove bacon pieces when done and reserve bacon fat.  Saute some onion or garlic in the fat.  Add 1 T. sugar and 2 T. cider vinegar to pan.  Add a little extra olive oil if there is not much bacon fat.  Add a little celery seed and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over chard.

Stuffed chard leaves
Lightly steam large chard leaves.  Leave whole and lay out on a clean counter or board to cool.  Make your favorite filling using some rice or bulgar, currants, ground meat, crumbled feta cheese, dill or parsley or mint or some of each. Optional - use a little beaten egg as a binder.  Put about 1/4-1/3 cup filling on each leaf, depending on size.  Roll up tucking in the sides,  like an egg roll.  Place in an oiled dish, drizzle on some olive oil and bake in a moderate oven until heated through.  May be served hot or at room temperature.  Good served with plain or herbed yogurt on the side, and pita bread.

Chard stew - serves about 4
2 cups cooked chickpeas, 3 cups canned or chopped fresh tomatoes, 1 pound chard stems and leaves - washed and sliced but not cooked (it will cook with the stew), 1 large onion, 2-3 cloves chopped garlic (you could also use green garlic or even garlic scapes or garlic chives),  2 cups uncooked potatoes - cut in large pieces.
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil.  Add all the other vegetables.  Simmer until everything is tender.  If stew seems too dry, add some white or red wine or broth or even water.  Optional herbs:  parsley, dill, mint. 

Simple chard with Parmesan
Wash, cook and chop chard - with or without stems.  Squeeze dry.  Melt butter in a pan (about 1 T. per serving of cooked chard).  Add chard and stir until hot and butter is well distributed.  Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan per serving.  Salt and pepper to taste.

No comments:

Post a Comment