No doubt you’ve seen bunches of chard at the market, deep green crinkled leaves bundled together, stuck in the case with the kales, mustard greens and other mysterious leafy winter vegetables. Chard is one of the most nutritious and versatile vegetables, highly prized in Europe but little-known and under-appreciated in the US.
Chard — often called Swiss chard, spinach beet or leaf beet — is a member of the beet family, grown for its leaves and stems, not its root. In Mediterranean cuisines, the stems are considered the best part of the vegetable and the leaves are often thrown out; the opposite is true here in the US, where the leaves are usually preferred and the ribs discarded. That’s a shame, because chard is really two superb vegetables in one: both the leaves and the stems are completely edible and can be used separately to create entirely different dishes.
Chard is one of the most versatile vegetables you’ll encounter. Young leaves can be cut into a thin chiffonade and added raw to salads, contributing color, texture and an earthy nuance of flavor. In some parts of the world, chard is a substitute for spinach. Although not related botanically, chard leaves do resemble spinach and can be used in any spinach recipe, adding a slightly more robust taste and texture to the dish. Chard leaves also can be steamed, sautéed, braised, blanched and used as wrappers for meat or grain stuffings, or to encase fish fillets.
Why choose organic?
- Choose organic whenever you can to help keep the residues of conventional agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of your food. Organic chard is grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think it tastes better, too!
How to select and store chard
- Look for fresh, moist and crisp leaves with no trace of yellowing. Avoid leaves with small holes, which could indicate insect damage. Stalks should be undamaged, stiff and firm, not flabby or soft.
- Store your chard, unwashed, in a perforated plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Chard has a short shelf life and will keep 3 to 4 days at most, so enjoy it as soon as you can.
Tips for using chard
- To separate chard leaves from their stalks (ribs) before cooking, fold the leaves in half lengthwise along the stalk. Grasp the folded leaf with one hand and pull the rib off with your other hand. Alternately, you can use a knife to slice off the stalks, or snip along each side of the stem with scissors.
- Unlike the baby chard used in salads, mature chard is best separated into leaves and ribs. Generally, stalks wider than 1 inch are best cooked separately from the leaves. Alternately, you can cook the stems until they’re almost tender before adding the leaves, to avoid overcooking the greens.
- Stalks can be sliced, blanched until tender and added to stir-fries, pastas, stuffings, soups and even salads. In Mediterranean cuisine, they’re often braised in stock, or sautéed with olive oil and garlic. A poor man's alternative to asparagus, they’re delicious with melted butter or Hollandaise sauce. Chard ribs are also widely used in stews, gratins, tians, tarts and tortas.
- Slice the leaves and add them to soups or stews, or steam whole leaves for 5 minutes. For a special treat, cook them in a small amount of heavy cream; when the liquid has reduced, add a handful of grated Parmesan cheese.