Monday, June 28, 2010

Homegrown Greens/Herbs: Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris var.)

Beautiful Ruby Chard growing happily with Sorrel

Swiss chard is a very easy to grow plant with ample rewards of succulent stems and leaves. The word "Swiss" was added simply for marketing purposes. Chard originates from the Mediterranean region and is well loved by the cooks there. It has many names such as silver beet, sea beet, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, mangold, etc and is related to garden beets and also spinach. Chard has abundant nutrients that make it a super vegetable that one should eat often.

Chard can be grown in the garden or in pots from seeds. Chard comes in many colors in addition to the white ribbed type. I love to grow a variety in large pots for the beautiful colors which are so pleasing to the eye not to mention the palate too. Seeds can be purchased for "rainbow" or "bright lights" chard which include ruby, pink, orange, and yellow-stemmed varieties which are very ornamental no matter where they are planted. Once they have a few leaves, start harvesting by snapping or cutting off the leaves right at the base away from the plants. As long as the central growing parts are not damaged, the plant will keep on producing abundant leaves.

Tender young leaves (only available if you grow them) can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches - anyway raw spinach/lettuce is used. The large mature leaves can be used for wrapping foods and/or cooked like spinach - use it in place of spinach in your favorite recipes. The stems and ribs take a little longer to cook; but are delicious - so don't throw them away. Simply strip the leafy parts off, chop as desired and start cooking them for just a few minutes before adding the leaves. I love the colorfulness that the stems add to the dish. Chard has a mild yet sweet earthy taste and is highly suitable in all cuisines.

Chard can be cooked simply by steaming, sauteing, etc. It is delicious made into curries, Thoran, Kuzhambu, Molakootal, Soups and Salads. Another one of my favorite ways of serving it is any bread - especially grilled bread - topped with chard cooked in a bit of olive oil seasoned with a little onion/garlic. Happy growing and eating! Enjoy!

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