Swiss chard wasn’t on my vegetable radar until I heard that it’s one of Lily’s favorites. If you attach “rainbow” to the name of a green vegetable, there’s a good chance that seven-year-old girls, who are in general not that excited about greens, will be much more interested. I, in fact, have a hard time not buying the bright bunches of chard at the farmers market purely based on their appearance. I’ve often brought some home on a whim, much like the sweater I see on sale that goes with nothing in my closet. It’s so gorgeous, who can resist? The truth is, I was never quite sure how to cook it. Since I’m so in love with spinach and kale, why bother with chard? Now that I’ve tried it, I know why.
According to Whole Foods, “Swiss chard is not only one of the most popular vegetables along the Mediterranean but it is one of the most nutritious vegetables around and ranks second only to spinach following our analysis of the total nutrient-richness of the world’s healthiest vegetables.” It has special properties that help with blood sugar regulation and you eat the entire thing, stems and all. The rainbow colors are loaded with phytonutrients providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Best of all, it’s simple to cook and tastes delicious. Sicilian chard might be an more appropriate name than Swiss but why not just call it rainbow chard and your kids might just love it.
To prepare chard, start by chopping the stems separately, much like you would celery. They can be sauteed first along with onions and/or garlic before the leaves are added. The simplest way to prepare it and the way Lily likes it, is to saute the stems in butter (and maybe a little garlic slipped in) until they’re soft, then add the torn or chopped leaves and cook until very tender and buttery. She likes it cooked in the style of Southern greens, a little water added, put a lid on and let them get well done. Some recipes suggest blanching the leaves first and pouring off the water to remove bitterness. I like the slightly bitter taste so I just saute and wilt lightly. If you want to add some crumbled feta cheese or bacon bits, please do and by all means, put a big squeeze of lemon juice at the end to brighten this already vibrant dish.
I ran across this recipe for Company Eggs in the latest issue of Bon Appetit and had to try it because it looked so delicious. It’s a simple recipe using chard that’s perfect for a springtime brunch or even a weeknight dinner. I made it for two, their recipe is for six and it’s easily adjustable depending on how many you have at the table.
Baked Eggs on a Bed of Swiss Chard (for 2)
Ingredients: 2T olive oil/ 1 shallot, thinly sliced/ 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped/1 large bunch Swiss chard, thick center ribs and stems chopped separately, leaves coarsely chopped/ 1/2 cup half-and-half (the recipe calls for heavy cream)/ 4 large farm fresh eggs/ grated cheese/ Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Directions: Preheat oven to 400°/ Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat/ Add shallot, garlic and chopped stems; season with salt and pepper/ Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8-10 minutes/ Add chard to skillet by the handful, tossing to wilt between additions. Cook, tossing often, until tender, 8-10 minutes/ Add half-and-half and simmer until thickened and almost evaporated, 8-10 minutes; season with salt and pepper/ Spread chard mixture in a baking dish/ Using the back of a spoon, make 4 small, evenly spaced divots in the chard mixture/ Crack 1 egg into each divot/ Season eggs with salt and pepper, sprinkle cheese over top/ Bake, rotating dish once, until egg whites are almost set and yolks are still runny, 15-18 minutes/ Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
I’m so excited about chard now that I’m asking everyone I know for their favorite recipes. My friend Joan suggested using it instead of kale in Sally’s Massaged Kale recipe. I can’t wait to try it. I’d love to hear if any of you have other suggestions.
Rainbow chard is happily growing in my garden and if this heat keeps up, it’ll be ready to eat very soon. In the meantime, I’ve found those colorful big bunches I can’t resist at Whistling Train Farm at the University District Farmers Market and at Maple Rock Farm at the Orcas Island Farmers Market.