Seasonal Eats: Celebrating Swiss Chard

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Swiss chard piled high at the market (Photo by Heather Parlato for LAist)

By Heather Parlato/Special to LAist

If you’ve been in LA for the last few days, I don’t need to explain why we’re so lucky to live in a mild climate where so many delicious things are seasonal through winter. Swiss chard is a cool-weather leafy green that loves the southern California climate and grows here year-round if you can give it enough sun in winter, and partially shade it in summer. If you love swiss chard, hopefully you’ll get some new ideas on how to use it. If you haven’t loved it yet, it’s never too late—read on!

Swiss chard is in the same family as spinach and beets, and was named “swiss” to differentiate it from French spinach by 19th century seed catalog publishers. Chard is a bit more firm than spinach and develops a slightly bitter flavor as it matures, which makes it better for salads when young, better for cooking as it grows. As a health food, chard is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, minerals and dietary fiber, and only has a glycemic load of 1.

If your main beef with chard has been that it’s bitter, the ways you make this work in your favor are by adding lemon or vinegar, and tame it with a good sauté. I especially like the simplicity of enjoying chard’s flavor with lemony chard with pine nuts, or a common breakfast in my house, sauteed swiss chard and onions. Since I’m a fan of all the winter greens with garlic, grab a selection and try this garlicky greens concoction. Kick it up with hot sauce if you want, I’ve never met one that doesn’t go well with swiss chard. These sautés are great on their own, but if you want to use them as a base for something else, throw in some sautéed squid!

Another preferred pairing for chard is dairy. It’s a favorite for stuffed pastas with ricotta cheese, and makes a great addition to any breakfast, brunch or lunch frittata. Or, marry it up with some tangy gorgonzola over pasta.

The strength of the leaves make swiss chard a pretty good candidate for wrapping and stuffing if they’re not overcooked. If you love seafood, try chard-wrapped halibut, or this delicious comfort food, swiss chard purses with sausage stuffing. Since they do stand up to cooking, adding to soups on the later side of the recipe works nicely. This Tunisian soup with chard looks amazing!

But look, it’s just a leaf, and you can eat it raw if you want. Cut more mature leaves into ribbons and add to your salad for some color and flavor texture, or go for young leaves and dress them up with vinaigrette. One of the sellers at the Hollywood Farmers' Market says she eats the young chard leaves like chips, so I tried it one day and they make a great snack (my cat even ate them). If you have a garden, chard is really rewarding to grow, either as a micro-green, or a year-round go-to veggie.

You’ll probably notice, a lot of these recipes tell you to cut the stems and ribs out of the leaves for use. Seriouseats.com will show you how to do it here. This is basically because the stems and leaves cook at different rates. If you want to use the whole leaf, just cook the stems first and add the leaves second. However, if you’re really going for just the leaf texture, don’t throw those stems out! They’re delicious! Here’s what I do with mine.

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Chard stems and onions, in the pan (Photo by Heather Parlato for LAist)

Onion & Swiss Chard Stem Scramble

Ingredients:

1 onion, sliced & quartered

1 bunch abandoned swiss chard stems [sniff]

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs white wine vinegar

2 eggs

cheddar cheese [optional]

salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Add the onions, olive oil and vinegar to a sauté pan on high heat while you trim the bottoms off the chard stems. Cut the chard stems to whatever texture or size you prefer, I did mine about half-inch lengths. Throw them in the pan and toss to coat with oil and vinegar.

If you prefer a more al dente texture, sauté them uncovered for 3 minutes or less. If you want to cook them down a bit, throw a splash of water in the pan, cover and turn down the heat to low and cook 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper to taste as you go.

Scramble or crack 2 eggs into the pan, toss to coat the veggies and flip a few times to cook the eggs through. If you like, add your preferred amount of cheese, turn off the heat and cover the pan to melt it.

Another option: instead of making this into a scramble, you can make a nice, simple ricotta tart with your sautéed onions & stems. Just put a pint of ricotta in a bowl, add your sauté with 2 eggs and stir it through with more salt & pepper. Then add it to a buttered & bread crumb-lined glass pie dish, and bake for an hour at 350. Voilà, a light & tangy side dish!