Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Swiss Chard Is More Than a Pretty Picture.

When my friend Vicki visited the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden a few weeks ago, she also took a nice picture of my Swiss chard. I have never grown Swiss chard before and it – and the celery nearby and a few of the parsley plants – are the only plants in my garden which I did not start myself from seed. I bought seedlings from DeMonye’s Greenhouse, but Dr. Mitch grew his Swiss chard from seed in a nearby plot at the SACG.

Swiss chard is virtually impossible to buy at a grocery or even a farmer’s market. I first tried Swiss chard last year when I was gardening at the Redeemer Moravian Church Community Garden in Dublin and Tom – whose plot was near mine – shared a few leaves with me while he pruned his extensive collection. I used it to make African Pineapple Peanut Stew, which was very good and even impressed my brother-in-law (who was born and raised in Cameroon).

This year, I have an enormous amount of chard and will probably have to freeze some it. (As you may have noticed in my March 20 posting, not many soup kitchens or food banks have much use for chard). However, I have tried two new recipes: Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew with Garbanzo Beans and Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles. I’m not a big fan of curry and so froze most of it to serve later over rice. However, the Tunisian Stew Recipe was pretty good, although not as good as the African Pineapple Stew.

Swiss chard is not just pretty; it is also very good for you. One cup of chopped chard has 715% of % Daily Value of Vitamin K, 110% of Vitamin A, 52% of Vitamin C, 38% of magnesium, 15% of dietary fiber, 30% of potassium and 25% of iron. All of this for just 35 calories.

Here are my two best recipes:

African Pineapple Peanut Stew (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home).

This can be prepared in about 30 minutes and can be served over rice or couscous.

1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cups of sliced Swiss chard
20 ounce can of crushed pineapple
½ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Crushed peanuts
Chopped scallions

Saute and frequently stir the onions and garlic in the oil for about ten minutes (or until the onions are lightly browned). Meanwhile, wash the Swiss chard, remove and discard the stems and cut the leaves into inch-wide slices. Throw in the entire can of crushed pineapple (juice and all) in with the onions, stir, add the chard, cover and simmer for about five minutes (until just tender). Mix in the peanut butter, hot sauce and cilantro and simmer for another five minutes. Add salt. Serve (and top with crushed peanuts and scallions).

Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles (adapted from February 2009 Gourmet Magazine).

½ pound swiss chard
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed cumin
2 minced garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons hot sauce (like harissa)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups rinsed garbanzo beans (which can be soaked overnight)
½ bag of egg noodles

Remove the chard stems and chop them into 1 inch pieces. Then roughly chop the chard leaves into one inch strips.

In a large pot, saute the chopped chard stems, onion, garlic, ½ teaspoon of cumin, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste and stir for another two minutes. Add the chicken stock, the hot sauce and lemon juice, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add chard leaves, garbanzo beans, and noodles, cover and simmer for another ten minutes (until tender).

Serve soup sprinkled with a dash of cumin.

If you like curry, you can obtain that recipe from -- which is my first stop for recipe ideas after I've exhausted my cookbook collection.

I'm not a big fan of frozen greens (spinach or otherwise), although they are good in omlets and a few other dishes. I've never frozen or preserved any greens from my garden, since I have generally had bad luck with spinach and eat it in salads as soon as I can harvest what little grows. According to The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food, the best way to freeze chard and other greens is to chop it up, stir fry it for 2-3 minutes while it wilts and then pack it into freezer bags. Once the bags are cool and dry, put them in the freezer and use within the next year.

My other bible of food preservation -- Ball's Blue Book of Preserving-- discusses both freezing and canning greens, including chard. Be sure to pick young and tender greens (preferrably in the morning). To freeze, first wash the greens and remove any woody stems. Blanch them for two minutes (i.e., put them in a strainer and drop strainer into boiling water). Then drop into seriously cold water. (I usually have a large bowl filled with water and ice cubes sitting in the sink for just this purspose). Drain and then pack your platic ware or freezer bags. Seal, label, dry out and freeze. It is generally important to blanch vegetables before freezing them in order to preserve their color and to stop the enzymes from destroying their texture. When I have frozen green beans and zucchini in the past, I found that I preferred steaming the vegetables instead of dropping them into hot water (where they end up getting soggy).

To can greens, wash them several times, stir-fry and wilt them (i.e., "turn greens over when steam beings to rise around the edges of the pan"). Pack hot greens into hot jars, leaving one inch of head space. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each pint jar; 1 teaspoon of salt to a quart jar, if desired. Ladle boiling water over the greens, leaving 1 inch of head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust the two-piece caps. Process pints for 1.1 hours and quarts for 1.5 hours at 10 pounds pressure in a steam-pressure canner.

Editor's Note: Vicki saw this and sent me a link to another website: Cheap, Healthy Leafy Greens: 246 Recipes for Cabbage, Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and Beyond.

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