There's more than one way to approach Swiss chard
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 10:31 AM
If you have never cooked with Swiss chard and dare to do so, here's the place to start: Replace the sauteed spinach in your favorite side-dish recipe with these beet-family greens. You'll notice that the chard is milder, yet slightly bitter. Definitely worth trying.
But if your favorite spinach recipe calls for cooking the vegetable to death and leaving it limp on the plate, don't bother.
I'm a Swiss chard fan. I'm always amazed by talented cooks who put a lot of thought into the diversity of their main courses but treat their veggies - especially the leafy green ones - like second-class citizens.
The popular route with chard seems to be rinse, chop, saute in olive oil. That's a fine way to go, but because we need greens to be part of our diet, we ought to employ a variety of techniques to prepare them. If you make them tasty - and that is easy to do, because these leaves are so flavorful - you and your family will like to eat them.
My beautiful 1-year-old niece in Israel, Roni, will not touch a banana. But she will happily devour a bowl of Swiss chard chicken soup with just a touch of lemon. To me, she is proof that kids are not born with an attitude toward the green stuff.
One of the best ways to use chard is to incorporate it into a main course. Wrap a fish fillet with chard before roasting. Chop it into rice dishes. Add it to lentil or pea soups in the last five minutes of cooking. I love substituting chard for spinach in spanakopita (try adding roasted fennel seeds as well), and it's wonderful in any salad with dry legumes such as fava beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas.
The sturdy leaves are perfect for rolling and stuffing: with rice and ground turkey, with ground beef or with lentils and bulgur. When green chard leaves are first chopped and sauteed in olive oil for five minutes (sound familiar?), they turn into something fabulous once they are whisked into scrambled eggs, then topped with crumbled feta and a sprinkling of black pepper.
While most Middle Eastern recipes use only the green parts of the leaf, Italian and French recipes treat the stalk of the white variety of Swiss chard as a vegetable by itself. It is used like celery, in gratins and in the tri-part Italian base for stews, along with onion and carrot.
The Greek and French love their chard so much, they incorporate it into dessert as well. They prepare sweet pastries stuffed with chard, raisins, and pine nuts or walnuts. (Personally, I'd rather eat overcooked spinach.)
When buying chard, choose bunches with small, vivid-green leaves and firm stalks. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Chard is rich in vitamins A and C, calcium and antioxidants.
And, despite that, it is still pretty delicious.
Guttman is a Chevy Chase caterer.