Chard is most closely related to beets, and is categorized by its leaf formation as opposed to root storage formation. Chard has a bitter taste when raw because of an acid known as oxalic acid. When cooked, chard’s bitter taste and vibrant color tend to diminish.
Chard can reach up to 28 inches in height and will produce stems that are white, yellow, orange, or crimson in color. It has quite a few commonly used names: swiss chard, silverbeet, perpetual spinach, beet spinach, seakale beet, and leaf beet.
Chard is rich in vitamins A, K, and C, and is an excellent source of vitamin E, and dietary minerals, magnesium, manganese, iron, and potassium. When chard is boiled, vitamin and mineral contents are reduced as compared to raw chard, but not to a significant degree.
Buying & Storing
Look for bunches of chard with vibrant colors and not too many yellow spots. Damage to the leaves can be easily removed. Avoid wilting or limp chard, when possible. Wrap chard in a damp towel or in a plastic bag and refrigerate, preferably in a crisper drawer. Chard is best used fresh but will last for 4-5 days if stored properly. Leaves will wilt if allowed to dry out, so be sure to replace the damp paper towel as needed.
For long-term storage, chard can be frozen. Wash, de-stem if you like (not required), cut leaves into thick ribbons, and drop the pieces in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove from the water, and rinse under cold water or put in an ice bath to stop cooking. Drain the chard and pack into airtight containers or freezer bags.
Preparation – dunk the leaves in a sink filled with cold water, using your hands to swish them around and push them under. Check the underside of each leaf for soil and garden pests. Refill the sink and repeat as necessary. If leaves are large and mature, you may want to remove the stems (midrib) and cook separately, though this is not required. Young tender leaves can be cooked whole.
Raw – chop or ribbon chard for salads, stir-fries, egg dishes (omelets, quiches, frittatas, etc.), or add to soups or stews. For soups, add chard stem chunks and/or leaves in the last few minutes of cooking.
Steam – remove the stems and cut into 1-inch chunks, and cut the leaves into large ribbons. In separate batches, place the stems and leaves into a pot with a steamer basket over an inch of water, cover, and cook. Steam the stems for 6-9 minutes and the leaves for 3-5 minutes. Toss steamed chard leaves with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Or, toss with toasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce.
Grill – brush whole leaves with oil (sesame or olive works well), sprinkle with desired seasoning, place on the edge of a hot grill, cover, and cook for 2-5 minutes. If using charcoal or wood, be careful not to put the leaves directly over the fire as the oil will cause any flames to jump and burn the leaves. Chop and use for a salad or serve as a side dish.
Sauté – cut the leaves into thick ribbons, and sauté in a skillet or sauté pan with oil, salt, and pepper (or any seasoning you like) until the chard has just started to go limp. Remove from the heat immediately, careful not to overcook.
Microwave – remove the stems, place them in a quart baking dish with the water that clings to them from rinsing, cover, and cook on high until tender, approximately 5-8 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 2 minutes.