What is Swiss chard? It’s a delectable leafy green vegetable, not nearly as common as spinach or mustard greens, for example. It is very tender with a mild flavor. My mother planted it in her garden when we were growing up and it was the only “greens” vegetable that I liked. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it grows in Louisiana gardens. You should give Swiss chard a try, if you have never tasted it.
Swiss chard is a curly green leaf. As it grows, thick stalks develop. Some Swiss chard varieties have white stalks. A ruby red variety has deep red colored stalks a little like rhubarb. One variety is called “Rainbow” because the stalks are colorful yellow, red and white. Swiss chard can be substituted in recipes for spinach. Swiss chard, however, is not related to spinach but rather to the beet family.
Growing Swiss Chard in Louisiana
I’ve grown all three varieties and greatly prefer the white variety; it is tender and mild. While the stalks are edible, they are tough and the red variety turns the dish into an interesting pink color. When you cut the outer leaves from plants growing in the garden, the plant continues to grow and make additional leaves which can be harvested all spring.
In Louisiana, the time to plant Swiss chard is in February and March, then it is ready to harvest throughout the rest of the spring and early summer. I actually planted these last October, they basically stayed dormant throughout the winter and really burst into growth when the weather warmed up. Swiss chard can tolerate warmer weather, while spinach does better in cooler weather.
Swiss Chard Background
While looking up some background information on Swiss chard; I found that it is not in the spinach family at all, but is related to beets. It is akin to the leafy top part of beets without the underground root. It is from the Mediterranean region, probably originating in Sicily. Catalogers added “Swiss” to the name to distinguish it from French spinach or chard. Swiss chard and beets are chenapods, belonging to the family Chenopodiaceae or a subfamily within the Amaranthaceae.
Nutritional Value and Benefits of Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is very high in nutrients, especially Vitamins C, A and K, magnesium and calcium. Most of the calcium is not available, since it is bound to oxalates. This can present a problem to persons with renal insufficiency or with an particular kind of kidney stone made from oxalates. These persons should be aware of all foods containing high amounts of oxalates (including rhubarb and spinach). Can boiling in a large amount of water reduce the oxalates? Possibly, I couldn’t find a definite answer; one source said that boiling it can reduce the oxalates by 50 percent. Boiling, however, also reduces the Vitamin C.
Swiss chard is valuable for another reason: it is high in phytonutrient content, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which have protective effects especially regarding heart disease, cancer and diabetes. According to one source, Swiss chard contains 13 different polyphenol compounds. Because of the phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals,Swiss chard made it onto The George Mateljan Foundation’s website’s list of the “Worlds Healthiest Foods.”
Creamed Swiss Chard
Creamed Swiss Chard is a very delicious recipe and easy to prepare. The Swiss chard reduces in volume as it is boiled; you will need leaves more than it appears.
- 2 large bunches Swiss chard (much more than shown in photo)
- 2 Tbsp margarine
- 1 scallion, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash white pepper
- dash red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
Wash the Swiss chard, cut in 1 inch strips, removing thick stalks (these can be diced and sauteed in the margarine for about 5 minutes, if desired, and added to the dish).
Add Swiss chard to boiling water, and boil about 3-5 minutes until wilted. Drain well in colander and set aside.
Make the white cream sauce: Melt the margarine in medium sized saucepan on medium high heat. Add the shallot and garlic, cook for 2 minutes, reducing heat if necessary to avoid scorching the shallot. Reduce heat to low, add the flour, slowly, and stir to avoid clumps. Remove totally from heat, slowly stir in the milk. Return to stove, on medium, stir until the milk becomes bubbly. Add salt and white pepper. Add the Swiss chard and red pepper flakes, optional. Heat up.
Remove from stove and stir in sour cream. Pour into serving dish.