Swiss chard is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. Here in Austin, it thrives almost year-round and is the last of the leafy greens to die when the summer kicks in in full force. The rainbow and red varieties are also highly ornamental and are ideal for edible landscapes. Still, some people don’t quite know how to use it in the kitchen!
With all the rain we had a few weeks ago, my chard just went crazy, so we have been using it a lot. It has found its way, stalks and all, into the veggie juices we make on weekends. I made a white bean and chard soup a couple weeks back that turned out delicious. I also make a simple salad by shredding the leaves finely, then tossing with lemon or lime juice, a splash of soy sauce and a drizzle of olive oil. The stalks are wonderful in their own right, with their crunchy texture and a tangy flavor similar to rhubarb. Inspired by a fabulous braised celery dish I had at Foreign & Domestic, I peeled the stalks to remove as much of the fibers as possible, then sauteed them with garlic until just translucent and added chicken stock and salt. I braised them until they were almost melted. They were spectacular!
As temperatures rise, the chard is starting to wane so it needs to be picked and eaten soon to make way for more eggplant and chile plants. So last night, I made my favorite chard dish of the year which was inspired by my mom, who loves Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Talking to her on the phone one day, she told me how she stuffs the leaves with a picadillo of ground lamb and beef mixed with cooked rice and seasoned with garlic, pepper, oregano and thyme, then serves them covered in a tomato sauce. I did a mix of lamb and beef to make it more economic and used brown rice that I had in the pantry for its nutty flavor and firmer texture. For the seasoning I used Zatar, which my friend Rae had brought back from her trip to Israel, and made my basic tomato broth simmered with a few sprigs of fresh mint. They turned out so good that they’ve joined the regular menu rotation. It’s a simple, economic and healthy recipe. Here is a step by step guide: