Swiss chard is one of those vegetables that makes you go wow and inspires awe with its big bold leaves and multi-colored stems. I get awfully excited in its presence. It's been about three months since we subscribed to a CSA farm share and I can't think of a better way to eat fresh vegetables. There's something about receiving a big box or bag of vegetables and unwrapping it like a Christmas present. A gift of health and nutrition. What I love most are the surprises. Even when I know what I'm getting in a particular week, I'm always gleeful and wide-eyed, which is often the case when I get a bunch of amazing swiss chard.
Kirsten of Farm Fresh Feasts totally gets me, but her relationship with swiss chard is one cultivated from a young age. "Swiss chard is home-and-mother comfort food to me. My folks were suburban backyard gardeners back in the 70’s and 80’s, then community garden plot holders until recently, and Swiss chard was one of their staple crops. I grew up eating it and rarely saw fresh chard until I joined my first CSA and could recreate my favorite childhood dishes."
Over the years, Kirsten's been part of three CSAs in two states and is poised to start her 11th season with a new CSA. Even though she's very familiar with the CSA model, each year there's an item new to her. A few years ago, she started the website Farm Fresh Feasts to provide a resource for people, like me, who are eating from a farm share.
"It was such a steep learning curve to make a menu plan after the produce is sitting in front of me. I wasted a lot of vegetables that first year we’d joined a CSA farm share simply because I didn’t know what to do with some of them before they went bad. It’s always a waste of money to throw out food, but it’s a bigger waste when you know whose hard work went into growing and harvesting that food."
I've found myself in the same dilemma, but when vegetables are this fresh and inviting, the option of eating them raw is always there for me. The recipe I'm sharing here is a vegetarian version of a Malaysian Nyonya salad called Jiu Hu Char, which has cooked vegetables like jicama, cabbage and carrot wrapped in fresh leaves. Green lettuce is usually used but I find that swiss chard works just as well.
Getting to Know Swiss Chard with Kirsten Olson Madaus of Farm Fresh Feasts
Swiss chard in a nutshell: Swiss chard is a dark leafy green that is often cultivated in colorful varieties with yellow, pink, or white stems. My friend Meghan pays plenty of attention to the nutritional benefits of vegetables, and she tells me chard is high in Vitamin K and iron.
Describe the taste: I use chard similarly to bok choy, spinach, and beet greens as it has a mild flavor; not spicy like turnip or mustard greens. Young baby chard leaves can be eaten raw in salads or on sandwiches, but most often chard is harvested when it’s older and used in cooked preparations.
How to select: I very rarely choose my chard, as I’m eating whatever comes in the farm share box, but if I were picking some out at the farmers market I’d go for bundles with shiny leaves and stiff stems.
How to prepare: When I taught my son to prepare chard in one of my recipes, Fast CSA Greens and Pasta, I had him strip the leaves from the stems, then chop the stems to saute separately, and finally slice the leaves into ribbons.
How to use: I most often make a simple side dish of sautéed chard, put it on a pizza, or tuck it into a mix of other vegetables. My friend Maurita has a recipe that uses chard leaves in place of grape leaves for a Mediterranean appetizer that I’m looking forward to trying this summer.
This post is part of the Spring Discovery series, where we put the spotlight on Spring vegetables. Also get to know radish, leek, beetroot, turnip and green garlic. And drop by Farm Fresh Feasts for more seasonal recipes.
Asian Rainbow Chard Wraps
The concept of Malaysian Nyonya salad Jiu Hu Char is really simple: Cook some vegetables and serve with fresh leaves. It's the combination of vegetables and flavors that make the dish what it is, specifically sweet-tasting jicama, carrots, cabbage and mushrooms. To make this vegetarian, I omitted dried cuttlefish called for in the traditional recipe. Serves 3 to 4.
A bunch of swiss chard, stems cut off
1 small jicama, julienned
3 medium carrots, julienned
1 small cabbage, sliced thinly
3 to 4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big shallot, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Spring onion, for garnish
Heat oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add garlic and shallot and stir-fry until soft and aromatic. Add all the vegetables except swiss chard and cook until everything is really soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add a little water if it gets too dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, scoop the filling into a swiss chard leaf. Enjoy as it is or with sriracha sauce for added heat.