Oh, how I love, love, love Swiss Chard...
It's not the most popular vegetable here in the United States, and I didn't grow up eating it. Until about 15 years ago, it never even crossed my mind to grow it.
The suggestion to grow Swiss Chard came from Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening books. The author suggests many vegetables to grow in a square foot garden, including Swiss Chard, and he raves about how wonderful it is. I gave it a try one season and I was so pleased.
Today, I always grow Swiss Chard in my garden. I love to grow it because it's so beautiful and colorful!
It can be grown all season and you can harvest the leaves (with the stems) and more leaves will grow! ("Cut and come again.") It's a hardy plant that will recover from moderate drought and attacks from insects. Plus, it grows quickly.
I'll be honest with you, though. I like to eat it, but.... I don't love to eat it. It's a unique flavor.
Is it OK to grow a vegetable because you like how it looks?
The fun of growing Swiss Card for me is how many varieties there are and the many vivid, bright, and colorful different Swiss Chard varieties.
A common variety is called Fordhook Giant, which grows a large plant with long white stems and bright green leaves. It's crazy easy to grow and this particular variety is hardy and prolific. You get a lot of Swiss Chard from one plant.
You may find a mix of colors in a variety called Bright Lights. Plants grown from this mix will have red, yellow, pink, orange, and white stems and leaves of different shades of green.
You can find seeds for some of the individual colors as individual varieties. Flamingo has neon pink stems. Rhubarb has deep red stems and red veins in the leaves - it looks a lot like rhubarb! Orange fantasia stands out with deep orangey-yellow stems and yellow veins in crinkly leaves. Sometimes you have to search online seed catalogs to find these unusual colors, but the search is worth it.
Most larger grocery stores carry Swiss Chard. I've only seen bundles of Swiss Chard in two varieties: white stemmed, mixed colors, and occasionally ruby red. The stems and leaves in supermarket bunches tend to be very large and mature. This does make for an impressive display in the store, but smaller, younger Swiss Chard leaves and stems are much more tender.
As I said, I didn't eat Swiss Chard growing up, and I had to figure out what to do with it. The flavor is somewhere between spinach and beet greens. You can eat both the leaves and the stems, but the stems can add a fibrous texture you may not like.
You can eat it raw in salads, and if you do, the smaller, tender leaves and stems are better.
One of my gardening friends told me that when she was a child, her mother made raw Swiss Chard stems stuffed with peanut butter as a snack! Of course I'd heard of stuffing peanut butter in the "valley" of a celery stalk, but I had no idea you could do that with Swiss Chard, too!
Tip: if your Swiss Chard goes limp after you've harvested it, the leaves and stems can be revitalized by immersing them in cold water for about 15-20 minutes.
Here are a few recipes to make tasty Swiss Chard dishes.
Wash Swiss chard thoroughly with clean cold water - you may need to wash it two or three times to remove all the dirt or grit completely. Spin them dry in a salad spinner. Leave a little bit of water clinging to the leaves and stems - the water will help in cooking.
Remove the leaves from the stems and roughly chop the leaves, then chop the stems. Keep the stems and leaves separate.
Some people don't like the stems, so they can be discarded if desired.
Heat a skillet large enough to accommodate your chopped Swiss Chard on the stovetop to medium-high. Put the oil in the skillet. When it is hot, add the stems (if using) and saute until they begin to wilt slightly. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds. Be careful not to burn the garlic, but you want to cook it slightly.
Add the leaves and toss them around using tongs. You may have to add the leaves in batches: as the first batch wilts and shrinks, add more. The leaves will turn a brighter green. Continue to toss the chard as it cooks, coating it with the oil and the garlic.
When the Swiss chard leaves have just completely wilted, the saute is done. Don't overcook.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Optionally sprinkle with parmesan cheese, asiago cheese, or toasted pine nuts.
Serve and enjoy.
Adding Swiss Chard to scrambled eggs is a nice way to boost vitamins, fiber, and color to your breakfast! Rather than a long recipe, here are the guidelines to add greens to your eggs. Adjust to your taste.
I do not develop unique recipes of my own, so I'm sharing a few I've found online. I've made the next two recipes successfully, and I've saved them because they're so good.
From the recipe page:
"If you have eggs and leafy greens on hand, you have the beginnings of an easy and quick supper. Take for example, this rainbow chart frittata. Seasoned simply, with aromatic onions and garlic, plus salt and pepper, frittatas like this are a protein rich last minute meal, one I fall back on time and time again." (Letty's Kitchen)
You will find a lot of frittata recipes for Swiss Chard because it pairs so nicely with eggs. I particularly like this one because the frittata is chock full of the Swiss Chard.
The Burek in the recipe below doesn't look
exactly like this photo, but you get the idea.
Burek (or borek) is a Turkish dish - something like a thin pie that uses filo (or phyllo) dough for the crust. Roughly similar to the Greek dish Spanikopita. This recipe is a little tricky, but the results are definitely worth it.
Swiss Chard is more common in cooking from Turkey and Eastern Europe. Makes sense they would have developed excellent recipes!
Enjoy - I hope you'll fall in love with this versatile easy-to-grow vegetable, too!