The beauty queen of greens, Swiss chard is sturdier than spinach, more delicate than kale, and carries a faint lemony flavor that ends with a very mild bite. Beyond its gorgeous color, chard is delicious fresh, steamed, braised, sautéed, stir-fried and wrapped around a chicken breast or fish fillet and baked. And it’s good for you, too.
Swiss chard is among the easiest greens to grow, filling out from seed to leaf in a month. It will grow continuously if harvested properly by removing the outer leaves to allow more leaves to grow from the center. Swiss chard is well suited to our climate, withstanding a sudden cold at the end of the season when it’s finally harvested right before the frost.
But is it Swiss? There are several theories about chard’s moniker. The commonly accepted one is about how French seed catalogs sold cardoon (cynara cardunculus) seeds and chard seeds under the same name. Swiss was added to distinguish these two distinct plants. But it could also be called Italian chard, for it grows beautifully along the saline soil of Italy’s coasts, where it’s prized in soups and rice dishes.
Older cookbooks advise cooking the leaves and stems separately, but we prefer to keep them in the same pan (less fuss and mess). Simply sauté the sturdier stems first to soften them, and then add the quicker-cooking leaves. The stems add color and texture and make for a more interesting dish.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking instructor.