I have to admit, while I was previously able to identify chard at 10 paces, I had never tried it before this spring, when friend and local farmer Russell Bell included it in our weekly CSA share. What does it taste like? Will I like it? How should I prepare it? Since I'm familiar with kale, I wasn't completely clueless about the preparation of tough spring greens, but I wanted to get a good idea of what to expect, flavors that might compliment it, and what to avoid, so off to Google I went.
Based on my readings of the wikipedia entry, culinary instructor Helen Rennie's info about cooking the stems, and this recipe, I put together my own approach. Dan and I declared it to be a success, so I'm sharing it with you!
::1:: Start with a big bunch of swiss chard - look for shiny, bright-green leaves and brightly-colored stems. Rinse your leaves and drip dry or pat dry.
Keep in mind that the leaves will cook wayyyyy down to a smaller volume; I had probably 20-30 stems and it was enough for 3-4 healthy-sized portions in the end. Adjust ingredients to taste and for the size of the crowd around your table.
::2:: Cut or tear the leaves off of the stems, placing leaves in one dish and stems in another. Many recipes encourage you to discard the stems - what a waste! They're beautiful and when cooked properly (i.e., longer than the leaves), they are tender yet crunchy. If you really insist on eating only the leaves, compost the stems, but only after admiring the gorgeous raspberry, lemon, peach, and cucumber colors of the stems.
::3:: Chop stems roughly into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
::4:: Slice a handful of spring onions (ours also came from our CSA) and mince 2-3 cloves of garlic. Set aside.
::5:: Heat a generous drizzle of oil (I used olive oil, you may wish to use one with a higher smoke point) in a large pan or wok. The pan should be large enough to accommodate the leaves when you add them.
::6:: Add onions, garlic, and chopped chard stems to pan.
::7:: WHILE THE STEMS ARE COOKING - if you haven't already, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces...unless you relish the sight of your dining companions with long wilted greens hanging out of the corners of their mouths. I don't, so I tore mine up. You must do what you think is right, of course.
I enlisted the support of a helper to keep stirring the stems/onions/garlic while I tore the leaves. He was a little put off by the strong aroma of warm garlic but otherwise enjoyed his task.
::8:: Stir fry until the stems are softened* but still brightly colored and the garlic is lightly browned.
*at this point I tasted the stems, and I have to admit, I wasn't crazy about the flavor. It needed something, and it reminded me of something. Once I placed the flavor - chard is related to beets - I was able to get my mind around how I wanted to continue with its preparation.
::9:: Add leaves and stir fry until wilted but still dark green, not brown.
::10:: Add a tablespoon or more of balsamic vinegar to the wilted greens and toss. Sample and decide whether you want a stronger vinegar flavor; add more to suit your taste.
Mangia! I have to admit, the kids wouldn't try it this time around and hubby wasn't sure he liked it at first, but he and I ended up really loving it. It's a strongly-flavored green that grows on you. The robust flavor feels healthy and springy.
My notes for future preparation:
:: this dish could handle more onions, maybe even raw ones
:: if you like cold beet salads, chilling this in the fridge after preparation and eating lukewarm or cold would be nice
:: a little mustard with the vinegar might be a tasty addition
:: a raw version of this salad with very thinly sliced stems would be delicious, accompanied with a spinach-salad type warm dressing of balsamic vinegar and pan-fried onions, poured over the greens to just wilt them a touch but keep them green and crisp
Next time around I'm trying Helen's baked parmesan chard, which sounds divine. Eat your greens!