What is Swiss chard?
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is a close relative of the garden beet. Chard and beets are so close, in fact, that they’re actually the same species of plant that’s been selected and bred for specific traits over many years. While beets have been bred for their plump, edible roots, Swiss chard has been bred for its crunchy, delicious leaves.
Rich in antioxidants, vitamins K, C, and A, and an excellent source of dietary fiber, Swiss chard is a real garden — and kitchen! — champ. The thick, succulent texture of the leaves make them excellent additions to a diversity of dishes, including the recipes you’ll find below. As an added bonus, Swiss chard varieties can have many different colored stems, including red, pink, orange, yellow, white, or even striped. The plants are truly beautiful!
How to grow Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a surprisingly easy crop to grow; even beginner gardeners will have success. Unlike lettuce and many other garden greens, Swiss chard is both heat and cold tolerant, making it easy to grow a prolific crop that produces from spring straight through autumn here on our Pennsylvania organic farm (its long growing season is also why Swiss chard is sometimes called ‘perpetual spinach’). Seeds can be sown directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring. As long as the seeds and plants receive ample moisture, it takes about 30 days for baby greens to be ready for harvest and 55-60 for the plants to reach full size.
When harvesting Swiss chard, it’s best to cut off individual outer leaves and let the growing point remain intact. This allows for multiple harvests from the same plant. Just head out to the garden whenever you need some chard greens for a recipe, and trim off as many leaves as you need, using a sharp, clean knife and cutting each stem off at its base. Wash and pat the leaves dry before use.
What does Swiss chard taste like?
Just because it shares a species name with beets, don’t assume that Swiss chard has the same sweet, earthy flavor as beets. Cooked Swiss chard tastes much like a mixture between spinach and collard greens. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads and on sandwiches, where they impart a slightly sweet, lettuce-like flavor but with a far meatier texture.
While the leaves of Swiss Chard are the part most cooks focus on, the thick, crunchy stems of Swiss chard are delicious, too. They take a bit longer to cook than the leaves do, so remove the midrib and stem from the leaves and allow them to cook a few minutes longer than the leaves. Another great way to use the stems is to sauté them in a bit of olive oil or steam them briefly until they’re slightly soft but not limp, then serve them as part of a crudités platter with hummus or ranch dressing.
How to freeze Swiss chard
In addition to enjoying Swiss chard in the recipes we’ve listed below, you can also easily freeze this yummy green for later use. To freeze Swiss chard, wash the leaves, then cut off the midribs and stems, setting them aside to prepare separately. Roughly chop the leaves into pieces, then put them into a large pot of boiling water for two minutes only. When two minutes pass, scoop the chard leaves out of the boiling water and put them immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Let the chard sit in the ice water until it’s fully cooled, about three minutes. Remove it from the ice water and put the blanched greens into a salad spinner to remove excess water. Pack the greens into zipper-top freezer bags, label the bags, and put them into the freezer. Now you’ll have plenty of Swiss chard on hand for use whenever you need it.
Freeze the stems in a similar fashion, but allow them to remain in the boiling water for an additional minute.
Swiss chard recipes
While you can use Swiss chard in just about any recipe that calls for spinach, including vegetable lasagnas, quiches, stir-fries, and sautés, here are a few of our favorite easy-to-make Swiss chard recipes.
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From The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family