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Chard: One of Many Spring Greens

April 02, 2012 | Tags: Deborah Madison , Food , Vegetables | Post comment

Chard: One of Many Spring Greens

Spring does begin with greens—spinach, beet greens, chard, lettuces, mustard greens and sorrel, then the wild greens like nettles, lambs quarters, chickweed and so forth.  Any one is good alone; all are good mixed together.  Chard, spinach and beets are all in the same botanical family, the goosefoots, which means among other things that they are pretty interchangeable with respect to flavor. However, chard is a stronger green and thus ends up with greater volume than the same weight of spinach, or beet greens. Still if you know that spinach is good in a recipe, chances are chard and beet greens will be too.

This is the most fundamental recipe for cooking spring chard, that is the smaller, more tender greens with stems a scant inch wide or less. There’s no reason not to cook such chard leaves with their stems. That way there’s no waste and you get the goodness of both parts of the vegetable—stems and leaves, which will cook in about the same amount of time.

Rainbow chard is exceptionally pretty. The shiny greens of the leaves, the pink, orange and yellow stems are gorgeous to look at and good to eat alone as a side dish or as a base for another dish —steamed beets perhaps, lentils, pasta, chickpeas.  I love chard mixed with all kinds of spring greens in a soup. In my book, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, cooked chard fills corn crepes and are adorned with pickled red onions. There’s no reason they couldn’t go in a corn tortilla quesadilla for a quicker meal, with or without meat, and cooked chard is great in lasagna (wait until summer and pair it with eggplant). I’m sure I could give you a recipe that’s based on chard every day of the month!

And there’s also no reason not to cook any variety of chard this way, as long as the leaves are modest size and the stems slender. Ruby or rhubarb chard with dark purple-red stems is also handsome cooked like this.

Some of the flavors chard pairs well with are:

Butter, sesame oil, olive oil

Cumin, cilantro, parsley, saffron, basil, nutmeg

Quinoa, rice, potatoes, white beans, lentils chickpeas, pasta

Lemon, strong vinegars

Eggs, Gruyere cheese, Parmesan

Spring (Rainbow) Chard Cooked with Its Stems                            Two pounds for 4 generous helpings

Young chard shouldn’t take too long to cook, about 10 minutes, maybe less, but make sure it’s tender enough to be enjoyable to eat. Many chefs undercook it and while it may look terrific on the plate, it’s not so enjoyable to eat.

2 pounds young Rainbow chard leaves, with their stems
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Lemon quarters


Trim the ends of the stems. Wash the chard but don’t dry it.  Choose a wide deep pot that will hold all the leaves.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until it shimmers, then add the chard and turn it with tongs to coat. Cook over medium-high heat, turning occasionally. Season with a few pinches of salt and cook until it has wilted down and is tender. Taste it to be sure! When done, turn off the heat, taste for salt, season with pepper, and pile the chard into a dish. Drizzle more olive oil over the top and serve with the lemon wedges.

And if you don’t eat it all, plant to use it in a frittata or a soup. Easy!