Chard is a dark leafy green vegetable common in Mediterranean cuisine. Particularly popular in Italian food, it's often featured in pasta dishes, in risotto and even on pizza. While Swiss chard may be the best known, it comes in a variety of colors, including red and golden chard. No matter the color, it's easy to prepare and there are a few different ways you can cook with it.
What Is Chard?
Chard (pronounced shard) is perhaps most commonly referred to as Swiss chard (which is one varietal) and it's related to beets. Chard greens look similar to beet greens, but unlike beets, the root of chard is inedible. The green leaves have a grooved, bumpy texture running up a colorful, thick stem. Both parts are edible, but they do cook at different rates. This green vegetable also goes by a number of names, including bright lights, Chilian beet, mangold, perpetual spinach, Roman kale, silverbeet, spinach beet, and white beet.
What is often most noticeable about chard is its array of colors. The stems of each varietal are different colors, spanning the entire rainbow from white to purple. White, gold, and red are the most common—Swiss chard is the white-stemmed variety. Rainbow chard is simply all these varieties packed together to be sold at market. Whether eaten raw or cooked, chard definitely brings a pop of color to the dinner table.
How to Cook With and Use Chard
Younger chard leaves can be eaten raw in dishes like salads. The more mature leaves are tougher and best served cooked. As with collard greens and kale, it's best to remove the stems and ribs from the centers of the leaves, because they can be tough and fibrous. Some people like to cook the stems separately, often in the same ways one would cook asparagus. One of the best ways to prepare chard is to sauté it. It can also be cooked by moist-heat cooking methods, such as steaming, or dry-heat cooking methods like grilling or roasting.
Chard must be thoroughly rinsed before preparing because the leaves can trap dirt. You will also want to cut off any damaged pieces and the very bottom of the stem. To remove the leaf from the stem, simply fold it in half and cut closely along the stem. You can then prepare the leaves and stems according to your recipes.
What Does It Taste Like?
Chard's flavor is comparable to spinach, although this depends on what cooking technique is used. It can be bitter, especially Swiss chard. Cooking tends to diminish the bitterness so that its earthy, sweet, almost beet-like flavor is more pronounced.
Chard makes an appearance in a variety of dishes and is just as versatile as spinach. Salads, stir-fries, soups, casseroles, and dumpling recipes can be found that feature chard.
Where to Buy Chard
When bunches of rainbow chard are available, they're easy to spot amongst the leafy greens in a produce market. Many grocers do carry some variety of chard, especially during the summer, which is chard's peak season. A bunch will likely cost more than spinach or lettuce because it's typically grouped with specialty greens like kale. You may also have luck at farmers markets and chard is an easy vegetable to grow in gardens or containers. You can plant it twice a year—in the spring and again in fall—and in some climates like the Pacific Northwest, it will live all year long.
Choose chard with bright green leaves and colorful stalks, both of which should be firm. Pass on any bunches that include wilting leaves or those that are turning yellow. Brown stalks are another indication that the chard is not as fresh as it should be.
For the best storage results, separate the leaves and stems, storing the two separately for up to one week. Left whole, chard can be refrigerated loosely wrapped in plastic for a couple of days. The stems can also be wrapped in plastic. For the leaves, lay them out on paper towels, then roll them into a bundle before sealing in a plastic bag.
The stems can be preserved for a longer period of time. Fermenting chard stems in water allow you to store a jar in the refrigerator for three to six months. It makes a nice salad topping.
Nutrition and Benefits
Chard is filled with nutrition, much like other dark leafy greens. The amount of vitamin K (good for bones) is three to four times the daily requirement. It's also packed with vitamins A and C and a good source of vitamin E. Chard is also low in calories while rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. To a lesser extent, it's a good source of calcium and riboflavin.
Chard vs. Kale
Chard can be compared to any leafy green. Tastewise and in terms of cooking, it's most similar to spinach, but it's good to compare it to kale as well. The leaves of the two vegetables are similar in texture: crinkled, crunchy, and dark green. Both are also best when the leaves are removed from the stem, though chard stems can be cooked to tender where kale will not tenderize and are best discarded.
The taste is the biggest difference. Kale is definitely an acquired taste and not everyone enjoys its strong, earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Chard is significantly milder and much more approachable. In fact, when trying to eat healthier, many families find that chard is better accepted no matter how much they try to get everyone to eat kale.