Friday, May 30, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Swiss Chard

This leafy green was identified by a Swiss botanist and is a variety of Beta vulgaris, belongs to the same family as beets and spinach, and shares a similar taste profile with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly salty. The plant has numerous monikers, including silverbeet, Roman kale, and strawberry spinach, though I always see it as "Swiss chard" at the markets where I shop.

Swiss chard is one of several leafy green veggies often referred to as "greens", something we're supposed to be eating much more of because of their impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. Chard is available throughout the year, but its peak season runs June through August when it is in the greatest abundance at your market. So now is the time to run out and get some at your farmer's market!

Swiss chard has a thick crunchy stalk that comes in white, red, or yellow, with wide fan-like green leaves. Plants can grow to 28 inches high and look really good growing in the garden. They make a great display of color and look pretty even if you don’t plan to eat them!

As I mentioned, Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse -- an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

And like beets, chard is a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. In this family are found reddish-purple as well as yellowish pigments that scientists have identified provide us with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.

Sometimes at the market, different colored varieties will be bunched together and labeled "rainbow chard". I like to buy these because they're pretty. When the nutritionists tell you to "eat the rainbow" it doesn't get much better than this.

One cup of chopped Swiss chard has just 35 calories and provides more than 300% of the daily value for vitamin K. But skip this veggie if you’re prone to kidney stones; it contains oxalates, which decrease the body’s absorption of calcium and can lead to kidney stones. (One way to reduce the oxalates is to boil the chard.)

According to some research I did, chard shows benefits for blood sugar regulation in animal studies due to it containing syringic acid, a flavonoid shown to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. When inhibited fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady. While studies on humans have yet to be performed, I take this research nonetheless as another reason to incorporate it into my diet.

Cooking Swiss chard:

Prepare Swiss chard by rinsing the crisp leaves several times in warm water. Leaves and stalks can be boiled, sautéed, steamed, or roasted, but boiling seems to reduce the bitterness the best, from what I’ve read.

Ideas for using Chard:

Toss with penne pasta and olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped garlic
Add to omelets and frittatas
Use in place of spinach when preparing veggie lasagna

I once posted a recipe for Swiss Chard and Bacon Quiche. It's still one of my favorite things to do with chard, although now I’d make the crust gluten-free. And while that quiche is totally delicious, I would save a recipe like that for the weekend when I have more time to cook. Here’s what I typically do with Swiss chard on weeknights.

Sauteed Swiss chard with bacon & garlic

Chop some bacon into little bite-sized pieces and place in a saute pan. Get it nice and crisp.

Once crisp, you can either remove the bacon, leaving the fat, or leave everything in the pan. Either way, clean your chard well and chop off the stalks and then chop them into pieces the same size as the bacon. Dry these off really well before adding to the bacon fat else your stove top will get a good splattering of fat all over the place. Saute the chopped stalks for several minutes to soften a bit. Then add the leaves, which have also been chopped. Let the leaves steam a bit before giving everything a good stir. Add some chopped garlic, and continue cooking until the leaves are properly wilted (about 10 minutes), stirring every so often. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little fresh lemon juice before serving.

We had it last night alongside a piece of sauteed fish in garlic butter. Mmmhh, boy did we smell like garlic!

To make this vegetarian, simply replace the bacon with a generous amount of butter. Do not use oil and most definitely do not use margarine! That stuff'll kill ya.

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