This guide to chard, an abundant garden vegetable beloved in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines, features tips on how to buy, prep, cook, and freeze. Often generically referred to as Swiss chard, it actually comes in a number of varieties.
A relative of both beets and spinach, the varieties of chard can be used fairly interchangeably in recipes. Unlike some other leafy greens, chard is better when lightly cooked rather than raw (though using it uncooked isn’t unheard of; just make sure, as you would before cooking, to wash the leaves very well; more on that later).
Some common varieties, in addition to Swiss, are green, red, gold, and silverbeet. Rainbow chard is actually a 5-color silverbeet, which grows with a variety of stem colors. These are packaged together to create the rainbow of colors often gorgeously displayed at farm markets, as you’ll see in the photo at top.
Some varieties that might be less common to ordinary markets but which might find favor with gardeners include: Rhubarb Red, Bright Lights, Bright Yellow, Ruby, Fordhook Giant. And there are others!
Buying: Chard keeps in the refrigerator for two to four days after you buy it (depending on how fresh it is when you buy it. Ideally, you’ll cook it the same day you purchase it, or the day after. Choose greens with firm, plump-looking leaves, with no wilted or discolored ones in the bunch.
The sooner you use your chard after purchasing, the more of its nutrients will be intact, and the better its flavor will be. If you don’t plan to use it right away, wrap in paper towel to absorb any extra moisture, then in a tightly sealed produce bag (or special produce-keeping container) and refrigerate until use.
How to prep chard
Rinsing: Like other leafy vegetables, chard grow close to the soil, sometimes a sandy soil, which can to cling to the leaves. Nothing ruins a good dish like a mouthful of sand or unwanted bacteria, so do wash the leaves of chard (and other leafy greens) very, very well.
Greens bought from the supermarket tend to look much cleaner than ones you’d get from a farm market or CSA, but don’t skip the step of giving them a good rinse even if they’re organic and look perfectly clean.
If the greens look fairly clean, like baby spinach, chard, and collard greens from the supermarket, a thorough rinse in a colander will suffice. For chard that has more savoyed (the fancy way to say “crinkled”) leaves, the best way to get them really clean is to chop it first (see the section following), then immerse in a big bowl of cold water. Swish the chopped leaves around with your hands, then let them stand for a couple of minutes. Scoop them out, discard the water, and repeat until the water looks perfectly clean. Even after doing this, give the greens one final rinse in a colander.
Stemming and chopping: To use stems, or not? That’s a matter of personal preference for each cook to decide. The stem, or midrib, of chard is fairly tender celery-like, so there’s no reason to discard it as you would, for example, collard stems, which are too tough.
It’s best to cut the leaves away from the stems, then slice the stems very thinly. The leaves can be cut into ribbons or into bite sized pieces. You can make quick work of cutting into ribbons by stacking several similar-sized leave atop one another (say, six or so), rolling up from one end to make a cigar-shape, then slicing thinly across. Make a cut in the opposite direction if the ribbons are too long.
Because chard tends to grow almost explosively in midsummer, you might find yourself with more than you can use. Freezing works well for most greens, especially the hardier ones like chard.
Blanching is the more traditional method for freezing greens; here are the basic steps:
- Cut the chard leaves away from the stems. Cut the leaves into ribbons or bite-sized pieces; slice the stems thinly. Place the leaves and stems in a colander and rinse very well, making sure any sand, grit, or soil are removed.
- Prepare a large bowl of very cold water and set aside.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil (the pot should be large enough to accommodate the greens comfortably).
- Immerse the chard into the boiling water quickly. Cook for 1 1/2 to minutes, just until bright green and barely tender.
- Drain the chard in the colander, then plunge into the bowl of cold water and let stand for a minute or so. Drain well in the colander once again.
- Pack the chard into small containers, with as little air as possible; or into freezer bags, pushing out excess air. If you’d like, affix a label with the date the greens were prepared, and freeze at once.
Stir-fry method: A more contemporary method is to stir-fry the clean, chopped greens using as little oil as possible (you can add chopped garlic), until tender-crisp. Allow the greens cool, uncovered, then pack and freeze as in step 6, above.
When ready to use, allow the greens to thaw in the refrigerator, or thaw partially and add to stews or soups to completely thaw. Frozen greens are best used within 6 months of preparation.
When it comes to nutrition, leafy greens often top lists of most nutritious veggies, and for good reason. Chard, like other leafy greens, is packed with vitamins, notably folic acid (a B vitamin), vitamin A, and vitamin C. It’s a notable source of vitamin K, which is essential to good bone health.
Chard is rich source of minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and iron, and contain generous amounts of phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. It’s a modest but reliable source of valuable Omega-3 fatty acids. Chard is high in fiber, and quite low in calories and carbohydrates, which makes it great for the digestive tract and for weight maintenance. Here’s a complete the nutrition profile of chard.
This roundup of Recipes for Using Chard also lists several extra recipes in which chard can be swapped in for other leafy greens.
How to cook chard
Chard’s slight bitterness is tempered by light cooking, and there’s an undertone of saltiness as well, more pronounced in some varieties than others. It can be steamed, braised, sautéed, and stir-fried. It takes well to wilting into soups and stews. Make sure to consult the roundup of recipes for using chard, just above.
Though chard stands out as the star of simple preparations, it more than holds its own with bold-flavored grain, bean, and potato dishes.
Chard takes a bit longer to cook than spinach, but a light hand with cooking is in order. Whatever recipe you’re following will have specific directions for that particular dish. If you want to do a basic garlicky sauté, consult The Most Basic, Best Way to Cook Leafy Greens (with lots of variations).
As mentioned earlier, chard is generally not used raw, though if you like it that way, there’s no reason not to. The leaves are a bit tougher and chewier than you’d expect, given how quickly it cooks up. But most cooks agree that it’s most palatable.
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