Chard is a member of the beet family, but unlike its cousins with the fleshy roots, it does not develop a rounded “beet” shape. The leaves and stems, not the roots, are the edible portions.
Jacques Rolland, in his “Essential Kitchen Dictionary” (Robert Rose Inc., 2014) says that the Swiss chard grown today “is very similar to that grown in prehistoric times in the Near East, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean regions.” The “Swiss” part of the name seems to have come into play in the 16th century, when a Swiss botanist described the yellow form of chard, centuries after Aristotle wrote about red chard in the fourth century BCE.
This variation in colour is evident today, especially in rainbow chard, comprising chard with stems in a rainbow of colours that can include pink, orange, red, purple and even stripes.
“The Silver Spoon” cookbook (Phaidon Press Inc., 2005), recommends allowing about 150 g (5 oz.) of Swiss chard per person. To look at it another way you can expect to get about 3 servings per 454 g (1 lb) by their reckoning. This is because the large, fluffy leaves become a lot more compact when cooked.
Because the leaves cook faster than the relatively thick stalks, it is often recommended to cook them separately. To tell the truth, I sometimes eat the crunchy stems raw like celery while cooking the leaves and the rest of a meal.
To cook the stems, cut them into pieces 5-6.5 cm (2-2½ inches) long, and cook in boiling water until tender. Finish by sautéing the cooked, drained stems in butter and sprinkling with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
Swiss chard leaves cook rapidly in boiling water, and are tasty with a little olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt.
I also like to sauté the leaves in hot oil just until they wilt. That is how I prepared them to make a modified version of eggs Benedict last week. Rather than being true to the original recipe, I used it as an inspiration for a dish made with what I had on hand. I used sourdough biscuits as a base and added a layer of sautéed Swiss chard leaves, a few thin slices of lightly cooked back bacon, and a poached egg, all topped off with a drizzle of Hollandaise sauce.
Here’s the recipe I used for Hollandaise sauce.
Adapted from Wattie, Helen and Elinor Donaldson: “Nellie Lyle Pattinson’s Canadian Cook Book.” Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1969.
45 mL (3 tbsp) butter
2 egg yolks
1 mL (¼ tsp) salt
25 mL (2 tbsp) boiling water
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice
Cream the butter; add beaten egg yolks. Add seasonings and water. Cook over gently boiling water until thick; stir constantly.
Remove from heat; add lemon juice.
Serve at once.
Swiss chard leaves are delicious and healthy additions to soup. I would serve this one with a baguette, or hearty Italian bread.
Sausage, Potato and Swiss Chard Soup
Adapted from Canadian Living, “Make it Tonight”. Transcontinental Books, Montreal, 2011.
500 g (1 lb) Italian sausage
15 mL (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
750 mL (3 cups) cubed peeled potatoes
2 mL (½ tsp) dried Italian herb seasoning
2 mL (½ tsp) pepper
1 mL (¼ tsp) hot pepper flakes
750 mL (3 cups) water
250 mL (1 cup) sodium-reduced chicken broth
500 mL (2 cups) packed, coarsely chopped Swiss chard leaves
125 mL (½ cup) shaved Parmesan cheese
Cut sausage into 2.5 cm (1 inch) pieces. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown sausage. Transfer to a bowl. Drain fat from the pan.
Add onion, garlic, potatoes, Italian herb seasoning, pepper and hot pepper flakes to pan; fry over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
Add water and broth; bring to a boil. Return sausage to pan. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, about 7 minutes.
Add Swiss chard; simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Top with Parmesan cheese.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.