Easy to be Green
June’s vegetable of the month: chard
by Gay Lyons
For the next several months, I’ll be choosing a “vegetable of the month” and having some fun with it. There’s only one rule: the vegetable has to be available at the Market Square Farmers’ Market, which just started its third season.
From now until Nov. 18, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., local growers will be selling their produce on the square. There are lots of other things for sale—baked goods from VG’s Bakery, crafts and other handmade items, eggs, chicken and beef from River Ridge Farms—but it’s the produce that makes it a “farmers’ market.”
It’s early in the growing season—too early for summer squash or tomatoes—but there are lots of leafy greens available as well as sugar snap peas. Go early! Last Saturday a couple of growers had sold out by the time I arrived, and I was fortunate to get the last bag of spinach from A Place of the Heart Farm. However, if you miss the spinach, you may still be able to find lettuce, kale, napa cabbage and this month’s featured vegetable, chard.
Chard is sometimes called Swiss chard or leaf beet, seakettle beet or spinach beet. It’s more commonly referred to as chard or Swiss chard, but since it’s actually a type of beet, it would make more sense to call this beet a beet. But don’t go looking for anything resembling beets when you pick up a bunch of chard. Leaf production has been encouraged at the expense of beet formation. Chard has a red or white celery-like rib, depending on the variety, but no beets.
By the way, beet greens are delicious. They can be hard to find, however, because the leaves have often been removed by the time the beets hit the produce bin or basket. When I find a bunch of beets with the full green red-veined leaves still attached, I grab them. I have been known to cook the greens and discard the beets, which, while wasteful, is not that weird. Different cultures sometimes value different parts of a vegetable. I discovered that European cooks value the stalks of chard more than the leaves. In the United States, when we eat chard, we favor the leaves.
Chard has lots of vitamin A and is high in minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It has a higher sodium content than most vegetables. It’s an attractive vibrant green vegetable, one that looks good in the garden and on a plate. Cookbooks don’t usually include a lot of recipes for chard, but it can be substituted for spinach in any recipe—though chard may require a bit more cooking time. Young, tender chard can be used in salads along with or as a substitute for spinach. The older chard gets, the longer cooking time is required, especially for the stems.
The All New Joy of Cooking lists just three recipes for chard (contrasted with 20 for spinach), but one of them is a tasty chard tart. Prepare a piecrust and preheat the oven to 375. Sauté a finely diced red onion and 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 15 minutes over medium low heat. Add a pound of washed, dried chopped chard leaves and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Season with 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and salt and pepper to taste. Combine three large eggs, 1/3 cup of half-and-half and a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Add the chard to the eggs and pour into the piecrust. Bake 40-45 minutes until the filling is firm and the crust golden brown.
Chard can also be cooked very simply. Recently, I prepared wilted chard. I removed the stems/ribs from a pound of chard and chopped them into one-inch pieces. I sautéed a clove of chopped garlic and the chard stems in a tablespoon of melted butter mixed with a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil. After a minute or so, I tossed in a handful of slivered almonds and sautéed those with the stems and garlic for a few seconds. I added a pound of washed dried chard torn into large pieces and sautéed the chard for a minute or so. I splashed a tiny bit of dry white wine over the chard and put a lid on the pan for about five minutes. Depending on the age of your chard, it may take a little longer, but not much. Just before serving it, I added salt and pepper and tossed the chard to blend.
If you like spinach, you’ll probably like chard. Check out the Farmers Market this Saturday. You’ll find lots of different kinds of greens, but try some chard if it’s available. It probably will be, but because this is a farmers’ market not a supermarket, you need to be prepared to be flexible. If the chard has sold out, try some kale or some collard greens—or mix the two. Just as spinach and chard can be mixed to good effect, so can collards and kale.