Saturday, June 19, 2010

Food I never ate growing up - Swiss Chard

When I was a kid, I was not a particularly picky eater and we had dinner table rules about eating vegetables, so I definitely grew up eating leafy greens, beans, peas, corn, tomatoes and a lot of other garden veggies. But when I got to college, all of a sudden the world of vegetables expanded and my new friends introduced me to artichokes, avocados, eggplant, mixed greens (the kind with bitter-tasting mustard greens), and olives that did not come from a jar labeled "Black Olives" or "Green Olives with Pimientos." Somewhere along the way I was introduced to Swiss chard, which is really one of the strangest veggies.

1. Its wildly colored stalks seem completely improbable, from a Mendelian genetics perspective.
2. You cook the leaves and the stalks separately and they both taste different.
3. How can something look so similar to rhubarb but instead be chard?
4. The Swiss are known for many things (cheese, the Alps, neutrality, anonymous bank accounts), but vegetable farming is not one of them. Turns out it's really from the Mediterranean.
5. Ever look at the seeds? Even these are strange.
6. Swiss chard is a beet. Seriously. (Cooperative Extension doesn't lie.)

After 2 years of planting chard seeds with zero success and the plants never surviving past the 2-inch stage, I have actually got 5-6 thriving chard this year. I started the seeds inside which may have contributed to their continued existence. I did just plant some golden chard seeds, so maybe those will survive as well. And while I still think chard is strange, I also find it strikingly beautiful.

I'll share my favorite recipe for swiss chard.

Steamed Swiss Chard Salad
Cut the leaves off the chard stems and cut the leaves into pieces.
Steam leaves until soft (about 3-5 minutes.)
Toss with olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a handful of pine nuts/walnuts.
Squeeze a lemon over the whole dish - I like it when some of the pulp falls into the salad.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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