When you think of summer produce, which vegetable or fruit first comes to mind? Corn? Watermelon? Tomatoes?
I'd wager that Swiss chard isn't anywhere in your top 10 ... or even your top 20.
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Swiss chard zipped across my radar when my CSA (community supported agriculture) box arrived the other week. Inside was a big bag filled with chard and all its colorful stems; yellow, pale green, magenta and red. Chard's leaves look like spinach, only larger. If it weren't for the vibrant and flat stems, you'd almost think it was large-leaf spinach.
Swiss chard leaves not only look like spinach, they also cook like it. The first time I cooked chard I left the stems intact and cooked it until the leaves were done. Not a good approach; when the leaves were cooked to perfection the stems were chewy and far from done.
Not always the sharpest knife in the drawer, I didn't consider the possibility of cooking the leaves separately from the stems and steered clear of chard for years.
When that CSA box appeared a co-worker asked me how to cook chard. Not wanting to admit that I didn't have any chard recipes in my collection, I told her I'd get back to her and got down to research.
I headed to the internet and found that Men's Health named Swiss chard one of the 10 best foods we aren't eating. I guess I wasn't the only one ignoring it.
Turns out few vegetables deliver the carotenoid wallop that one cup of fresh, uncooked Swiss chard does. A cup of chard contains just 7 calories yet delivers 20 mg each of lutein and zeaxanthin; large words that mean good things for eye health. Researchers believe that those two compounds protect our eyes, especially the eyes of older folks, from damaging shortwave light rays.
Swiss chard also packs a good amount of vitamin K, a vitamin that works in conjunction with vitamin D to maintain a healthy heart, strong bones and healthy insulin levels.
I also learned that Swiss chard belongs to the beet family. Even though they might not look alike, Swiss chard leaves taste similar to beet leaves.
While I've never liked beets -- my mom told me that I spit out beet baby food when I was little and my feelings about beets never improved -- I do love beet greens, which I guess is why I also love chard.
I remember Grandmother Mauer sautéed beet leaves just tender and then seasoned them with butter, salt, fresh-ground black pepper and a little vinegar. I didn't want to like them, but I did, and still do.
My research further uncovered a variety of ways to prepare Swiss chard. It can be sautéed (my favorite), simmered or steamed; young, smaller leaves (not stems) can be shredded for salads or baked into a creamy gratin. Chard likes to get chummy with garlic, onion, and sweet peppers and is not opposed to being topped with a dusting of shredded or grated parmesan cheese.
I stumbled across this recipe on the Mayo Clinic website. It's excellent and even though it contains olive oil and cheese comes in at just 30 percent calories from fat. Healthy and tasty and tough to beat. Give it a try.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.