Everyone knows that leafy green vegetables are good for you. And unless you are on some form of a restricted diet, you are (hopefully) trying to get greens into your diet, such as kale – the recent darling of the culinary world – any of the Greens family – Turnip, Collard or Mustard – or even that classic powerhouse of nutrients, spinach. But coming in at a close second behind spinach on the Good-For-You scale, and not getting quite as much attention as the other greens is chard, more commonly referred to as Swiss chard, and it’s packing both a healthy and (thankfully) a delicious punch.

This biennial leafy green was first noted in 1753 and named Beta Vulgaris, and the origin of the “Swiss” moniker is not entirely known, as the plant did not originate there. While it is grown largely in the Northern hemisphere, it is very popular in all forms of Mediterranean cooking. Most varieties of chard will produce three or more crops, and are usually harvested in the early spring, in April and May. Although fresh raw chard is very perishable, it can be prepared and frozen for later use. There are many varieties, including red, yellow, or white (or silver), and rainbow seed packets are available as well, that will produce all colors in one crop.

As mentioned earlier, chard is overwhelmingly good for you. A tremendous amount of research has been done on the benefits of chard, and it has been found to contain thirteen different polyphenols, including ones that are critical in blood sugar regulation and cardio-protection. Due to its high vitamin K content, it is also beneficial to ocular health, and the red and yellow pigments in the stems and veins are excellent for reducing inflammation and detoxifying the system. One cup of cooked chard contains approximately thirty-five calories, over 50% of the daily value of vitamin A and six times the daily value of vitamin K. And of course, in life there is always an upside and a downside to everything. Potentially the only down side of chard is that it does contain a certain amount of oxalic acid, or calcium oxalate. This chemical occurs naturally in chard and other vegetables like spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. As the chemical is the primary component in kidney stones, those who have a history of or propensity toward stones should watch their intake of such vegetables. As always, you should consult your doctor or nutritionist is you have any questions about oxalic acid.

Because of its resemblance to spinach, there are nearly as many recipes and culinary uses for chard as its “cousin.” Most often it is boiled or roasted, and in preparation the leaves and stems are often cooked separately. This is largely due to the toughness of the stems, and usually the “silver” or white-stemmed chard is recommended as they are more tender than their red, purple and yellow counterparts. Once it is cooked, it has a milder, sweeter flavor than spinach, and the oxalic acid mentioned above is reduced somewhat. The leaves can of course be eaten raw as well, adequately replacing spinach in almost any recipe. As there are so many great chard recipes out there, instead of including just one, I decided to link a few for you to check out for yourselves:

From Saveur here

From Taste of Home here

And from CHOW here

I admit to not having a lot of previous experience with chard, but after having learned more about its nutritional benefits, and its spinach-like flexibility in recipes, I can say that I will be incorporating this delicious – and very pretty – vegetable into more of my dishes. Happy eating!!

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