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Friday, July 19

Gapers Block

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I was a picky eater as a child, and I admit to not having much fondness for green leafy vegetables. Everything was called spinach, no matter what my mom tried to do to it, and consequently I would sit at the table till it was cold and inedibly disgusting. But as an adult I grew to like vegetables as soon as I discovered garlic and when I realized that they don't have to be cooked until mushy and gray.

There are a number of vegetables that I eat frequently now that I never would have touched before, and Swiss chard is one of them. It's incredibly easy to grow, doesn't take a lot of nutrients from the soil, is hearty enough to survive some cold weather and a wide range of heat and moisture levels. Which makes it perfect for the Chicago backyard garden.

Chard isn't actually from Switzerland; its Latin name was given to it by a Swiss scientist and consequently his country was honored when the vegetable was named. Aristotle wrote about chard in the 4th Century BC and the vegetable originated in the Mediterranean. We call it chard because the French actually confused its name with that of cardoon and called them both carde.

Chard is incredibly high in Vitamins A, K, C, calcium, fiber and iron, to just name a few. And like most vegetables, it retains more of its nutritional value when it is lightly cooked rather than boiled to death. Even though it is a leafy green, its mild flavor makes it more similar to spinach than to collard greens or mustard greens. It can be substituted in almost any recipe that calls for greens or spinach.

To choose chard, look for the freshest you can find. The fresher the leaves, the less bitter the final dish. Avoid leaves that are wilted, yellow, or that have holes in the tips or the spines. Place the unwashed chard in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. It's likely to be dirty or sandy, so tear or cut the leaves into smaller pieces and soak in cold water with a few quick dunks and swishes to encourage dirt to float to the bottom. If you want to store chard longer than a few days before you cook it, you can parboil it. All you have to do is bring a pot of water with a teaspoon of salt to a boil. Drop the leaves in the water and let them cook for exactly 60 seconds before fishing out the leaves and then placing them in a freezer-safe container and freezing them for up to two months.

The good thing about chard is that it picks up flavorings very easily and very well. This means you can adapt it to almost any type of cuisine or add it to many dishes to incorporate greens in places you might not otherwise. I'll present a few recipes to show you the versatility, but there are a variety of places online that have dozens of recipes for chard. It's one of the few vegetables with such a huge fan base.

Simple Wilted Chard
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 pound of Swiss chard
1/2 of a small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes (or a couple of dashes of a liquid pepper sauce)
1 tablespoon cider or balsamic vinegar, plus more to taste
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the chard into bite-sized pieces. Chop the stems into smaller pieces and peel off the outer edge if it seems particularly fibrous. Rinse the chard and spin or pat it dry. Place a skillet over medium heat and add the chard and olive oil once it gets hot. Toss quickly to coat the leaves with the oil. Add in the onion and stir occasionally for 5-7 minutes or until the onion is translucent and starting to turn yellow or brown. Add in the garlic, pepper flakes, vinegar, nutmeg and stock. Stir to combine and then cover and let it cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir, and let the stock evaporate. Taste before serving and add more vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. This goes great as a side dish with most fish or meat dishes, and since it takes 10 minutes to make you can quickly whip it up before serving to guests. Or you can make a large batch to freeze it so you have a healthy side dish on hand.
Serves 2-3.

Swiss Chard with Whole Wheat Pasta and Beans
I like eating whole wheat pasta but find that more strongly flavored, or hearty, sauces work better with it. If you're trying to continue those resolutions by eating healthier, this is a filling and tasty meal that won't make you regretful the next day.

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped, rinsed, and dried
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper
6 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
1/4 cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped (oil-cured, kalamata, or another variety of your choice, even canned)
1 can of cannelini or Great Northern beans, drained
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese

Bring a large, covered pot of water over high heat. Meanwhile, place a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onion. Toss to combine and let it cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the onions have started to turn golden brown but aren't quite getting dark. Stir occasionally to keep the onions from burning. Place the chard in the skillet and cover with the lid for a few minutes to begin the wilting. Remove the lid and add the garlic, tomatoes, cinnamon, wine and a little salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cover until the water boils. Add the spaghetti to the water and stir to keep it from sticking. Add the olives and beans to the sauce and let them heat through while the pasta cooks. Stir occasionally and break up the tomatoes with a spoon if necessary. Once the pasta has cooked according to the package directions, drain it and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat and sprinkle the cheese over the pasta before serving immediately.
Serves 2-3.

Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup
3/4 cup of lentils
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/4 lbs fresh Swiss chard (about 1 bunch)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Stalk celery, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon flour

Wash and pick over the lentils to remove any stones, discolored lentils, or other debris. Place a saucepan over medium heat and add the lentils. Pour 1 quart of chicken stock over the lentils. Cover them and cook until they're almost tender, about 25 minutes. Tear the chard into bite-sized pieces and wash them before adding to the lentils. Cover with a lid and continue cooking until the Swiss chard is done, adding more water or stock if necessary. This should take about 7-10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion. Use the back of a stainless steel spoon to crush the garlic cloves with salt in a bowl or on a cutting board. Scrape up the paste and add it to the skillet along with the choped celery to the onion. (Rubbing a spoon over the garlic and salt will take out the sharp and bitter flavors that garlic tend to bring to a dish.) Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender and blended which should take about 5-7 minutes. Add the skillet contents to the lentil mixture and stir to combine. Whisk the lemon juice with the flour and stir it into the soup. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently while stirring constantly until the soup is rather thick. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve with crusty bread and a salad for a complete meal. Serves 2-3.

While all of these dishes are vegetarian, I have to say that bacon or pancetta go remarkably well with chard or other greens. They provide some saltiness and crunch which balance the greens. With just a little work this item, which seems to show up in many wintertime CSA boxes, can be added and blended into dishes where it provides a supporting role instead of the star spot. Or with just a simple preparation it becomes a side dish on its own. No matter how you eat it, it is likely to provide your body with the nutrients you need to fight off the winter doldrums (and colds) and help you stay on a healthier course, while still providing your tastebuds with something enjoyable.


Last week we teased a tamale recipe. I've been lucky to receive a tamale education from a woman who has made hundreds of pounds of tamales during her lifetime and my first attempt wasn't bad. But I'd like to get some more practice before sharing her recipe and techniques with the readers of One Good Meal. Stay tuned and in the next couple of weeks you'll get to see pictures and tips on how to make your own tamales. I will tell you that it isn't as hard as you may think.

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Victor / January 21, 2008 2:00 PM

In addition, Swiss Chard is biologically closely related to Indian Spinach. So any Indian recipes you have that use spinach; like Saag Aloo or Saag Paneer; use Chard instead to get a more authentic taste.

pam cobb / December 5, 2009 12:38 PM

i have been growing chard at the shop we own in texas next spring will be its 4 th summer. i have a wonderful recipe with fish if you like ill share, have a nice day, pam

John / October 20, 2010 5:44 AM

Swiss chard undoubtedly is one of the most nutritional leafy vegetables. I remember eating a lot of fresh young chard during my school days. The taste was a little bit bitter so I would try to avoid it as much as I can. But my mother would insist that I should eat them. Recent studies have shown that Swiss chard is rich in vitamins A, K and C. It also contains a lot of minerals and protein. Eating it at least once in a week is certainly good for heart patients. | Cincinnati Dining


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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