Chard, Silverbeet or Spinach – what’s in a name?
Earlier this year I wrote a couple of articles on what we commonly refer to as spinach. A large group of tasty and healthy leafy green vegetables. All the various forms of what call spinach are very good for our health and should be part of our regular diet. The name relates to plants from across several different genera with many common names relating to the region of origin. In Australia we use it to refer to cultivars of Beta vulgaris and Spinacia oleracea.
This month we are looking at the plant we call Chard or Silverbeet. To start with Chard has the Latin name of Beta vulgaris cicla making it a close relative to the common Beetroot - from which we mainly eat the root. The leaves of beetroot are now finding their way into salads and stirfries and there is even a 'beetroot cress' consisting of a very red form that has sweet little red leaves that are harvested when only a few centimetres tall.
In Australian English the name Chard is a synonym for Silverbeet and refers to the tall upright plants with large veined leaf blades and stiff solid stems. The colored forms of Chard have been around for many years but are only now becoming part of the regular Australian diet. The plain white stemmed variety has been on Australian tables for decades and most of us grew up with it as one of regular the meat and three veggies. Some of us called it silverbeet and some called it spinach but either way it is one of those veggies that was a constant battle between parents and children. The standard green form is referred to as 'Swiss Chard' - not because it comes from Switzerland but to distinguish it from other popular greens of the time.
It has a long history being part of the European diet for over 2000 years. It was part of the Ancient Greek cuisine, the Roman medicine cabinet and the Arab kitchen. It is assumed the name Chard comes from misspelling and misidentification of the popular French vegetable 'cardoon' which has the French name carde and Swiss carde. As to be expected with such an old plant its history gets lost in the mix of different names from the many countries where it has been grown. Some of these include; Strawberry Spinach, Chillian Beet, Roman Kale, Siciliian Beet, Seakale, Acelgas, al-siq, biete da costa and spinach beet. Many of these names have little logic now but probably made sense originally.
As mentioned above Chard is a leafy green vegetable that is popular in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaf blade is usually light green with large veins that give the leaf texture and added colour. The stems can be anything from pure white to deep red and golden yellow and all shades in between. The stem colour often gives it a common name. Chard Ruby has deep red stems, Chard Golden has bright golden yellow stems and Rainbow Chard is usually a blend of seed from coloured varieties.
Some people just eat the stems and the leaf blades are tolerated and others just eat the leaf and discard the stems. Both parts are quite edible and are very healthy - high in vitamins A and K with a 100g serving provided well over the recommended daily allowance of both. There is also a large range of phytonutrients and minerals that help with overall health. The stiff lower stems are best cooked separately from the leaf blades as they take a bit longer and are best in stews and soups. The leaves are best lightly steamed or even eaten raw.
As a plant it will grow in most standard veggie patches requiring full sun and moist but well drained soil. They are best planted over summer and will provide fresh leaves until early the following summer. Like most leafy vegetables it yields best if it is harvested continually and any flower stems removed as they appear. In the right garden with good management a single chard plant will supply leaves for 18 to 24 months. It is an upright plant to 40cm that makes an attractive addition to the garden and is regarded as one of the healthiest and easiest to grow of all vegetables.
A couple of easy to make recipes. Like most good vegetables Chard should be steamed or sauteed and not boiled nor overcooked.
Colored Chard Oshitashi
Oshitashi literally means 'to soak' or 'to dip' so this is a dish which lightly soaks the chard in boiling water.
Bunch of Rainbow Chard.
2 tablespoons of good Soy Sauce
Place Chard into boiling water until tender - 3-4 minutes. Remove and plunge in cold water until leaves cool down. Squeeze out excess water and place in bowl and toss in soy sauce. Place on plate and sprinkle over bonito flakes.
Chard and Salmon Pasta
Bunch of Golden or Swiss chard.
40 gm chopped Smoked Salmon
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 Spring onion finely diced
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives
100 ml of dry white wine
400 gms of Penne Pasta
Separate Chard stems from leaf blades. Chop stems in to small (2cm long) pieces and steam until tender; 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and place leaves in steamer. Whilst this is cooking also cook Pasta until nearly cooked.
Place oil, salmon, garlic and onion into hot pan and cook and stir for 3 minutes then add wine and chives and simmer for another minute. Add Chard cover and cook for 2 minutes. Finally add Pasta and cook for another 2 minutes stirring occassionally.
Place in bowls and toss over shaved parmesan.