Thursday, October 23, 2014

Swiss Chard

After some trial and error, I am sold on growing Swiss Chard! It is easy to grow, tasty, and "pretty". There are several different varieties and they may be used in a border garden for their decorative appeal as well as a wonderful, edible green. It has become my summer "spinach."

Ruby Chard - in whiskey barrel planter
At first, I followed several different recipes I found online.  They were all ok. Each was an "acid" base recipe, using either lemon or vinegar...  I had a season's worth of harvesting still to do and my family wasn't "sold" on this new addition to our table.  

It occurred to me that most people describe the taste similar to either spinach or asparagus.  With these vegetables, it occurred to me that I like both sauteed with butter...sweeter. Voila!  Success for our household.  

Suggestion 1: "Spinach"
I cut the main stems out and (gasp) discard - compost
I then chop and briefly saute the leaf portions as I would fresh spinach.  I use real, salted butter.  As with spinach, you need quite a lot of fresh product as it cooks down a lot. Salt/Pepper to taste.
This is the main reason I grow chard - to have "spinach" all summer in this way. I also cook it this way if the chard has "gotten away from me" and I have a lot of it.  I have used it in quiche, scrambled eggs, soup, and plain as a side.

Suggestion 2: Chard-whole
The stem portions need to be cooked longer than the leaf portions:
Remove the main stems making a pile of stems, and one of leaf portions.
Chop stems finely.  Chop leaves roughly.
Saute the stems first until softened (in your flavor of choice: olive oil, butter, whatever), then add in the leaf portion and saute until wilted/cooked. Salt/Pepper to taste.
My Family favorite:
Cook a few pieces of bacon until tender but not crisp, add in 2-3 cloves minced fresh garlic, saute till golden.  Add in chard stems and a little olive oil or butter if dry.  Cover and cook until stem pieces are tender.  Add in leaf portions and continue to stir and cook until wilted.  I sometimes top with grated or shredded Parmesan cheese. 

Suggestion 3:  Use in place of other greens
Pretty much any way you use other greens, you can replace chard for something different: soups, vita-drinks, sweet/sour wilted "spinach" salad, etc.  Basically, if recipe calls for spinach, I use only the leaf portion.  If it calls for kale or other such, use leaf portion and some or all of the stem (be sure to pre-cook stem first).  I love to add some to soup.  It is a beautiful color-I precook it separate first then add it in. 

So, my advice is to start with your favorite way to cook and use spinach and prepare the leaf portion in that way.  Then try it in a few recipes that use spinach.  After that, try it whole. And, by all means, try growing some.  You can even plant it in containers, along your flower bed as a border, or save some space in your vegetable garden for it.  Buy transplants or start from seed.  The key to harvesting is to pick outside, lower leaves and not more than 1/3 of any given plant.  It will continue to grow and produce all season long and may even over-winter.  

Rainbow Chard in raised garden bed - spring
same crop - mid October - still producing

I hope I may have encouraged you to try Chard and perhaps even grow it in your own garden.  If that is the case, I'd love to hear from you.  

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