Swiss chard is one of those vegetables that
needs plenty of water when growing, which explains why it is a popular
garden vegetable in many places which have a high rainfall. Gardeners
are very fond of Swiss chard, not only because it is delicious to eat
but also because it is so very striking.
Swiss chard is often likened to spinach. The
leaves have similarities, although they are not related and chard is on
an altogether larger scale. Swiss chard leaves are large and fleshy with
distinctive white ribs, and the flavor is stronger and more robust than
spinach. It is popular in France where it is baked with rice, eggs and
milk in tians, and cooked in a celebrated pastry from Nice -
tourte de blettes - which is a sweet tart filled with raisins,
pinenuts, apples and Swiss chard bound together with eggs. It is also
often combined with eggs in frittatas and tortillas.
Swiss chard is a member of the beet family
and is called by several names on this theme, including seakale beet and
spinach beet. Ruby or rhubarb chard has striking red ribs and leaf beet
is often cultivated as a decorative plant, but they both have the same
flavor, and unlike sugar beet and beetroot, they are cultivated only for
Buying and Storing : Heads of chard
should be fresh and bright green. Avoid those with withered leaves or
flabby stems. It keeps better than spinach but should be eaten within a
couple of days.
Preparing : Some people buy or grow
chard for the white stems alone and discard the leaves, but this is a
waste of a delicious vegetable. The leaf needs to be separated from the
ribs, and this can be done roughly with a sharp knife or more precisely
using scissors. The ribs can then be sliced. Either shred the leaves, or
blanch them and use them to wrap little parcels of fragrant rice or
other food. If the chard is young and small, the ribs do not need to be
Cooking : For pies, frittatas and
gratins, the leaves and ribs can be cooked together. Gently saute the
ribs in butter and oil and then add the leaves a minute or so later.
Alternatively, the ribs can be simmered in a little water until tender
and the leaves added a few minutes later or steamed over the top.