Friday, September 14, 2012

The secret to good Swiss chard: Cooking it

When I was a kid, I hated Swiss chard.
    Like, really hated it.
     My parents grew it in their garden, and often threw it raw into salads.
   I hated the bitter taste, the texture, and the grit that just didn’t seem to want to wash off the leaves.
   But recently, while we were on vacation, my husband’s aunt served us cooked Swiss chard.
    After not having it for about 25 years, I gave it a taste.
    I was so relieved – I liked it! Gone was the bitter taste that I remember from my childhood.
    I soon realized, especially after reading a recipe that used Swiss chard, that mature leaves taste bitter unless they are cooked. (Young leaves can be served raw).
    This must have been the cause of my childhood Swiss chard hatred – it was served raw to my delicate tastebuds.
    With this mystery solved, I picked up a beautiful bunch of Swiss chard at a farmer’s market recently and set out to cook it using the recipe I had found.
    We tossed the chard, tomatoes and feta with linguine, and it was a winning dish.
    But my husband and I agreed that the cooked chard on its own would have been absolutely delicious, too – we sampled some bites of the chard by itself. I would not hesitate to serve it as a side dish.
    It had a terrific salty taste, aided by the garlic and kosher salt with which it was cooked.  
    And it was a breeze to make.
    Know that Swiss chard is like spinach: When its leaves are cooked, they wilt to a mere shadow of their former raw selves. I bought a huge bunch at the farmer’s market and found it weighed just one pound! I adjusted the recipe amounts accordingly.
    The recipe I linked to is for a basic Sautéed Swiss Chard recipe, with several variations listed below it. This time around, we made the version with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Feta, the last one on the list.
    Swiss chard is washed to remove grit. The stems are cut off, and each leaf is cut in half lengthwise by slicing down the center rib. The halved leaves are stacked and cut in half again crosswise.
    Olive oil is heated in a skillet. In batches, the Swiss chard is piled into the pan, and turned and tossed gently until the leaves begin to wilt and turn glossy. A new batch of leaves is added as the previous batch wilts and makes room for more.
    When all the chard is wilted, finely-chopped garlic and some kosher salt is sprinkled in and tossed well. The heat is lowered, and the chard covered and cooked for a few minutes. The lid is removed, then a pinch of red pepper flakes is added. The chard is cooked for a couple more minutes so that much of the liquid evaporates (my husband found this took just one minute more).
    Sun-dried tomato halves are drained and cut into thin strips, and are tossed with crumbled feta cheese and chopped fresh thyme.
    The cooked chard and the sun-dried tomato mixture are tossed together. Serve immediately.

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