A weekly series on what to do with your farmers' market impulse buys and CSA box surprises.
Chard, a member of the beet family, is known for it's high nutritional value. This leafy green is often called Swiss chard, despite the fact that it originated in the Mediterranean and is rarely found in Switzerland.
Different types of chard produce different colored stems and veins varying from white to electric shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple. (The vibrant-colored chards are often bunched together and sold as rainbow chard.) The leaves are slightly more bitter in flavor than spinach, but milder than kale or collard greens. As with all greens, the bitterness mellows after cooking.
How do I buy it? The stems should be firm and crisp. The leaves should be dark and shiny, with no signs of wilting. If you plan to use the chard raw, look for smaller leaves. Younger plants tend to be slightly sweeter.
How do I eat it? Baby chard is often included in mixed green salads. The larger varieties can be added to salads or sauteed, steamed or replaced in most recipes calling for spinach. Before cooking remove the stems and ribs from the leaves. If you wish to use these tougher parts, finely chop them and take note that they will need to cook a few minutes longer than the rest of the greens.
For a sweet and savory vegetarian lunch or side dish: Cut or tear chard into 2-inch pieces, saute in olive oil with toasted pine nuts and raisins over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until soft. Serve over polenta and drizzle with a high quality balsamic vinegar.
Tip: Don't use an aluminum pan to cook chard. The vegetable contains oxalates, which will discolor the pan.