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Cooking with chard

This is the time of year when gourmets enjoy fresh chard. Chard is a leafy vegetable that is cooked like spinach, but its flavour is spicier and stronger. Chard adds a distinctive taste to pasta, fish or meat, in a gratin or a soup. To make a simple side dish, sauté onions and garlic until soft, add chopped chard and dried tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, honey and lemon juice. Large chard leaves can be used to wrap beef olives or filled with vegetables and rice, while the tiny leaves of young chard can be eaten raw in salads.

Chard and mangel wurzel

Generally we differentiate between the related varieties chard and mangel wurzel. Chard is a leafy vegetable with brightly coloured stalks and dark green leaves and it’s prepared and cooked like spinach. Mangel wurzel is not often found in the shops, it has a fat, fleshy root and thick red and white stalks and small leaves. It’s the stalks that are mainly eaten and they need to be cooked rather like asparagus and for longer than the leaves. Both types of vegetable are rich in protein, iodine, vitamins A, E and K, sodium, magnesium, iron and potassium.

Family and origin

Chard (Beta vulgaris cicla) originally comes from around the Mediterranean and the near East. Like spinach and beetroot, it belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family. It’s a biennial – you can eat it in the first year, but in the second year it goes to seed and can no longer be eaten.

Buying and quality

Summer is the main season for chard, but the leaves of young plants van be eaten raw in spring. Only buy leaves and stalks that look fresh and crisp. Leaves that are too big can taste bitter. Make sure the stalks don’t have any brown spots. If you rub them gently together they should make a soft crunching sound. Chard is best cooked on the day you buy it, but it will keep for a couple of days in your fridge if you wrap it in a damp tea towel. Wash the chard well, leaf by leaf, to get rid of any sand or earth.

Important note

Like spinach and rhubarb, chard contains high levels of oxalic acid. People who suffer from kidney stones should limit their intake of oxalic acid, because it can combine with other substances to promote formation of kidney stones. Chard also contains nitrates which can be changed by the action of bacteria or mould into nitrites hazardous you’re your health. This is why neither chard nor spinach should be stored for any length of time or rewarmed once you’ve cooked it.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de