We all know that leafy greens are powerful storehouse of nutrition, packed to the rafters with vitamins and minerals and loaded with antioxidants, all the while managing to be cholesterol and fat free. Spinach and kale are both old and new-school darlings in the leafy green pantheon, and right up there with them is Swiss Chard, one of our favourite and most versatile of all greens.
Chard’s botanical name is Beta vulgaris, which certainly doesn’t make it sound too appetizing, thus the Romans (it is native to the mediterranean) called it “carduus,” artichoke thistle, and we get the word chard from that. That it is referred to as “Swiss” chard is likely due to the Swiss Botanist Caspar Bauhin who first brought it to the modern world’s attention in the sixteenth century, but it goes by other names as well, including beet spinach, perpetual spinach (due to it’s super long growing and harvesting season) and leaf beet; after all, beets, spinach and chard are all in the same family.
Nutrition wise, Swiss Chard is a home-run, a slam dunk and a touchdown all in one. One cup of chopped cooked chard (175g) gives you over half your daily value (DV) of vitamin C, 214% DV of vitamin A and a whopping 715% of vitamin K. The same amount is also a great source of the minerals iron (22%DV) magnesium (38%) potassium (27%) manganese (29%) and calcium (10%). All this plus 3 grams of protein and no cholesterol or fat. On the down side, it does contain 313 mg or 13% of your recommended daily allotment of sodium. (As an aside, a teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg. Health Canada reports that the average adult Canadian ingests more than 3,400 mg of salt per day, more than double the recommended 1000-1,500mg/day).
Cooking chard can be as simple as boiling it or sautéing and serving as a serviceable, slightly toothsome side dish. But braising it over low heat with some garlic, shallot and red wine really makes it deluxe and melt-in-your-mouth. Whenever I braise Swiss chard I chop the delicious reddish stems and either use them right away in the braise or put them in a ziplock and freeze them for later use. They are perfect in a stir-fry, crunchy and bright tasting and vibrant, and add colour, crunch, flavour and nutrition to succotash. Here’s an ingenious recipe for stuffed Swiss Chard that uses this remarkable green like a cabbage or grape leaf.
And the next time you make a beet borscht, add as much chopped chard stem as you like while you sauté the beets, onion, cabbage and celery; it’s a perfect fit, and the colour and flavour are a match made in soup heaven.