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Chard on the table

By Margaret Hartley
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cucumbers and squash are only just starting to show up in my garden, so up until now it’s mostly been all about the greens.

Salads, of course — we have lots of lettuce and other tender greens good for raw eating. And the kale is delicious, steamed or massaged with oil to make a hearty salad base.
But right now it’s time for chard. My youthful experience with chard was all about big stiff greens around hard white stems — your basic Swiss chard.

But chard comes in all kinds of beautiful colors — yellow, pink, bright red — and I finally learned a few years back that, like most vegetables, it tastes best when young.

This year our chard is red-veined and so beautiful it would make a lovely centerpiece in any vase. I cut the outer leaves when the stems are still less than half-an-inch wide, and mostly chop and steam it. Plain or with butter and salt, it makes a perfect side dish.

For a bit more pizzazz — well, actually because I had come into possession of some Vidalia onions — I made chard with caramelized onions.

I sliced three onions into thin ribbons, and cooked them in a medium hot cast-iron frying pan. I only recently learned the trick of caramelizing onions so that they turn brown and sweet. Start the pan out a little hotter than you would if you were just sweating and softening the onions.

I just use a little olive oil, and stir occasionally but not constantly. That prevents the onions from burning but allows them to brown. When they had reduced in volume to about half, I added washed and chopped chard on top — enough to fill the pan — and put on a lid. It takes less than five minutes for the chard to steam and reduce in volume.
Then I took the pan off the heat, stirred the chard and onions together, salted and served. The resident boy asked for seconds.

MAIN DISH

One night when we were tired from gardening and it was getting late to start cooking dinner, I remembered a recipe I’d read once involving chard, poached eggs and curry. It seemed like a way to turn the current garden star into a main dish.

I had some chicken sausage on hand, a lot of chard and a will to improvise. Eggs we always have, thanks to our resident chickens.

I chopped the chard, washed it and spun it dry in a salad spinner. I chopped and fried some onions, took the sausage out of its casing and added it, cooking and stirring to get loose sausage crumbles. I added curry powder while I was stirring.

Then I dropped in six eggs, spacing them evenly over the sausage. Then I added the chopped chard, mounding it high, and put a lid on the pan. I instructed the boy to set the table because dinner would be ready in five minutes.

He was back in the kitchen when I took the frying pan off the heat, put a big platter over it and inverted the whole pan-full onto the platter.

“Wow,” he said. “How did you do that?”

It did look impressive. The dish had bright green and red chard on the bottom, a middle layer of curry-yellow eggs, all topped with curried sausages. A really quick meal out of ready ingredients.

When you’re buying chard in the market or farm stand, look for deep green leaves that aren’t wilted, and thin stems. The brightly colored chard tend to have thinner stems than the white Swiss chard.

And if your chard is a bit wilted, slice off a little of the stem and put it in a jar or pitcher of water. It will perk up. And make a nice centerpiece, too.

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