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Colorful Chard Stems for fast weeknight dinners

Many people are still unfamiliar with the large, red-veined leaves topping an array of vibrant stems. Swiss chard is one of many leafy green vegetables we often simply call “greens.” It is often grown as an ornamental for its large, bright foliage.

This pretty plant is so nutritious, it’s known as one of the “super foods”. Low in calories (35 per cup) and sodium, chard’s combination of nutrients is effective in preventing digestive tract cancers. A single cup provides 300 percent of vitamin K, more than a third of your daily magnesium needs, and 10 percent of your calcium requirement – all nutrients important in building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. The same cup of Swiss chard also provides your total daily requirement of vitamin A, half of your vitamin C, one-fourth of your potassium and manganese, and about 15% of the daily value for fiber. Like spinach, it’s a good source of iron, and also provides vitamin E. It is also a top source of two important, lesser-known antioxidants, syringic acid (which slows down the digestion of carbohydrates) and kaempferol (an anti-inflammatory that protects cells against cancer-causing toxins).

Many people use the leaves and discard the stems. This is unfortunate. Unlike tough stems of kale or collards, stems of Swiss chard are tender enough to eat; they just need to cook a little longer than the leaves, and they’re tender and sweet. Since he stems and leaves of Swiss chard taste and cook differently, you get two vegetables instead of one.

The leaves can be cooked and used in the same way you’d use spinach: in quiche, in frittata, mixed with pasta or rice. Prepare the stalks the same way as cooked celery or asparagus. They are good sauteed, in stir fries, and in casseroles. They can be added to soups and stews. And they can be made into pickles. If you’re using both leaves and stalks in a recipe (like a soup or a stew), add the stems a little earlier because they need more cooking time.

When shopping, make sure chard is fresh and crisp, not wilted. Press or twist a stalk in order to test for freshness. Stalks should be firm and crisp; ones that are rubbery will be tough.

To use the stalks, rinse them under running water to remove the dirt, cut off the end, and slice in pieces. If they’re fibrous, you can make a cut at the base and peel the tough fibers, as you would with celery.

For a fast weeknight supper, saute chard stems with onions, add some shredded cheese, and wrap them in dough – a French crepe or a Mexican tortilla. Or simply mix sauteed chard stems (or greens) with cooked pasta, and season with salt, lemon juice, olive oil, and fresh minced garlic.

Swiss Chard Stir Fry

Ingredients:

Stems from 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed

Stems from 1 bunch bok choy, leaves removed

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast

1 onion

1 carrot or 1 yellow bell pepper (or both)

1 clove garlic

1″ chunk ginger

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup, optional

Directions:

Wash chard and bok choy stems; slice into 1-inch lengths; set aside.

Heat oil in skillet. Add chicken and cook 2 minutes; flip over and cook two to three minutes more or until cooked through. Set aside. (Or use leftover chicken or turkey).

Peel and dice the onion; add to the same skillet and cook 5 minutes. Scrub carrot and slice in rings: wash pepper, remove seeds and chop in 1-inch squares. Add to the skillet and cook four to five minutes more.

Peel and mince the garlic and ginger; add to skillet and cook one to two minutes more. Add the reserved chard and bok choy, cook four to five minutes or until softened. Add reserved chicken and cook just until heated through.

Remove from heat; season with soy sauce, vinegar and honey. Serve over rice or another cooked grain.

Serves three.

Pasta with Swiss Chard

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. tubular pasta, such as ziti

1 Tablespoon salt

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1 1/2 lbs.)

A little oil for the pan

1/4 pound Italian sausage OR 1 to 2 cups cooked beans (see below)

1 large onion

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup white wine

1 cup black olives, sliced or quartered

1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Directions:

Place large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Add 1 Tablespoon salt. When water boils, stir in pasta, return to boil and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup liquid.

While paste cooks, separate the chard stems from the leaves. Wash leaves and set aside. Rinse stems under running water to remove sand, and slice across like you would celery. Set aside.

Coat a large skillet with with oil. Add the sausage and cook on low. Peel and dice the onion, add, and sprinkle with salt. Peel and mince the garlic, and stir in. Cook five to 10 minutes until sausage is brown and onions are translucent. Add the chard stems and 1/2 cup wine, cover, and cook 5 minutes over medium heat, until almost tender. Stir in the chard leaves, cover, and continue cooking another 5 minutes, until wilted.

Toss cooked pasta with contents of skillet, olives, and feta. Add a little pasta cooking water if mixture is too dry.

Vegetarians, omit sausage and toss in 1 to 2 cups cooked white beans or garbanzo beans.

Serves three.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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