Friday, September 9, 2011
Ingredient focus: Swiss Chard
This post, the first of many to come, is intended to highlight a particular culinary ingredient, rather than offer a recipe. I will try to summarize the key nutritional benefits of the ingredient, followed by notes on cooking and recipe suggestions.
Portland is known for its roses, which love the mild summers and acidic clay soil here. But as a home gardener, I find that greens of all kinds—lettuces, spinach, kale etc. -- also love the Portland summers. My most prolific crop this year has been from a half a bag of ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard, left over from a few years ago. This handful of seeds has provided us with a seemingly endless supply of both tender and mammoth-sized, multicolored chard leaves for our culinary adventures.
Swiss chard is a member of the same family as beets, although it is cultivated for its leaves, rather than edible roots. It is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean, where it is still a heavy favorite among cooks. Chard is chock-full of carotenoids, the compounds that color your carrots, including b-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, as well as lutein, which makes egg yolks yellow, and zeaxanthin, which both colors and flavors your saffron. A cup of Swiss chard supplies 44% of your daily value for Vitamin A, 18% of your DV for Vitamin C, 4% of your daily iron requirements, and a whopping 374% of your daily Vitamin K requirements. Compare that to spinach, the foremost among veggies we loved to hate as children. A cup of spinach provides 56%, and 14% of Vitamins A and C, respectively, and only 5% and 181% of iron and Vitamin K requirements. So cup for cup, chard is actually a far better source of dietary iron than spinach. Since my doctor tells me that my iron counts could use some improvement, I’m harvesting a whole new batch of this colorful vegetable for dinner today!
As far as taste goes, I actually like chard a lot more than spinach, since it has a more complex flavor to it. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads, where they impart an enjoyably bitter taste. Older, larger leaves, are best briefly cooked to reduce the bitterness. After trimming the stem and any particularly tough veins, they can be sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and salt or soy sauce until just wilted, for a quick and easy side dish. I also like to add sautéed chard as an alternative to spinach to scrambled eggs, ‘daal’ (cooked lentils), and stir fries with tofu. Grocery stores tend to stock either red stemmed varieties, or white-stemmed varieties, most often. If you grow your own, you can grow a mix of yellow, white, red, and orange stemmed leaves, to create a truly rainbow-colored meal.