Sunday, January 12, 2003

Serve it this week: Swiss chard

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

History: Noted vegetable book author Elizabeth Schneider writes in Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (Morrow; $60) that, "after 25 years of futile probing,'' she can find no reason why chard is called "Swiss chard.'' The word "chard'' is derived from the French and Latin for "thistle,'' but the vegetable, which has crinkly green or red leaves and celery-like stalks, actually belongs to the beet family. All types of chard - leaves and stems - have always been more popular as a side or main dish in Europe than in America.

Buy: Select wide-stalked bunches with firm, bright leaves. Leaves should not be yellowed or soggy. In addition to the common Swiss chard, there's the more assertively flavored rhubarb chard, which has dark green leaves and reddish stalks, and rainbow chard, with bright, multi-colored stems

Store: Wrap in perforated plastic and keep in the coolest part of the refrigerator no longer than three days before using. Store away from apples, pears, avocados and most tropical fruit, which produce ethylene gas and may accelerate drying and decay of chard.

Prepare: Remove and discard any dried, slippery or yellowed leaves. Dunk chard in sink of tepid water and swish around. Remove to leave sand and grit in water. Strip or slice leaves from stalks; trim stalks and cut to suit recipe. Chard can be blanched, braised or steamed. Since stems require a longer cooking time, it's best to begin cooking them first, then add the leaves; or cook stems and leaves separately. Chard's full, earthy flavors make it an excellent foil to rich pork and duck. Italians love to serve it in soups, stews and pasta.

Good for you: Chard is a good source of vitamin A and fiber, and is rich in beta-carotene.

Braised Chard with Middle Eastern Savors
About 2 pounds chard, rinsed and trimmed
2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup raisins or currants
1/4 cup pitted, sliced kalamata or other Greek olives
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Slice or remove leaves from chard stems. Cut leaves into rough slices; cut stems into 1-inch slices. Combine stems, water, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil in large non-aluminum skillet. Simmer, covered, until half-cooked, about
8 minutes. Add capers and half the garlic. Cover and simmer until stems are tender, another 5 to 10 minutes.
Using slotted spoon, transfer cooked stems to serving dish and toss with
1/2 tablespoon oil. Arrange in center of dish.
Add leaves to pan with remaining
1/2 tablespoon oil, remaining garlic, raisins, olives and chili flakes. Simmer, covered, until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes. Uncover and simmer, stirring often, until tender, about another 10 minutes. Increase heat to evaporate most liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange cooked leaves around stems. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with nuts. Makes 4 servings.
- Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (Morrow; $60)

Chard Sauteed with Garlic
2 medium bunches red or green chard (about 11/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 11/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Lemon wedges

Remove stems from chard and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Coarsely chop leaves. Wash leaves and stems well, but don't dry.
Heat large skillet over medium-low and add olive oil, sliced garlic and red pepper flakes. When garlic begins to color, add chard stems and season with salt to taste.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until stems are nearly tender, about
2 minutes. Add chopped chard leaves and cook, partially covered, until both leaves and stems are tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Season with lemon juice or vinegar. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
Serve in bowl with lemon wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
- Joy of Cooking (Scribner; $30)

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Serve it this week: Swiss chard

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