March 4, 2010

In Which I Learn to Love Swiss Chard

I started reading food blogs about a year ago, when I was considerably less adventurous in my attitudes towards unfamiliar ingredients. Leeks? Had no idea what they were. Thai fish sauce? Sounded sketchy. Jicama? Ji-what? I kept reading about a mysterious vegetable called swiss chard, and I was getting pissed off. Was it just me? Was I the only person ignorant to the existence of swiss chard? What was this thing that so many food-conscious people were eating and why didn't I know about it? It sounded weird, scary, gourmet-esque, and undoubtedly out of my grad school student price range. Finally, after about the 17th mention of swiss chard, I googled it and set off to the grocery store to try it for myself.

I'm happy to report that swiss chard is neither "gourmet," nor expensive. Swiss chard is a leafy green similar to spinach, but with an earthier, heartier flavor. It's incredibly healthy (check this out), it's fairly filling, it tastes really good, and it's versatile. And at the Albertson's closest to me, it costs about $1.99 for a huge bunch.

I frequently sautee up some chard as a side dish, but I've also used it in soups and in stir-frys. Here is an easy step-by-step recipe for my favorite way to prepare swiss chard, something I call, uncreatively, "Sauteed Garlic Swiss Chard."

Here is what you'll need:

1/4 to 1/2 of a bunch of swiss chard (1/4 is enough for one person)
2 or so tbsp of olive oil
some garlic (however much you like. Yeah, I use the preminced garlic. It's easier!)
salt and pepper to your taste

1. Chop up your chard. The first time I prepared chard, I read that you're supposed to fold/roll the leaf and tear roughly with the knife, away from the center stem. This works pretty well, but do whatever feels natural to you. You will want to chop off the end stems and discard them. They are edible, but they're a bit more sour.

2. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan. Once it is hot, add the garlic.

3. Once the garlic is just the teensiest bit browned, add in the chopped chard. It will seem like it is way too much, but chard shrinks down quite a bit. Make sure you toss the chard well in the pan, so it becomes covered with the oil. Probably use a spatula or a wooden spoon for this.

4. Keep stirring/tossing the chard around the pan until it becomes wilted and wet, about 5 or so minutes. Once this happens, cook it about one minute more, until it is hot and seems pretty thoroughly cooked. It should look, more or less, like this:

5. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and eat!

You can also try adding ginger, red pepper flakes, basil, dill, or whatever spice you like for more flavor. Throw some onions, leeks, or asparagus in the pan if you want a greater variety of vegetables.

Here I'm eating chard as a companion to baked eggs and tomato salad. It is a good meal.

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