Chard is wicked good for you…and what is amaranth?

Chard is wicked good for you, and here’s a little bit about why:

 Chard

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

I don’t associate Swiss chard with Switzerland. Instead, I associate this healthy, heart green with cuisines from the Mediterranean, where it is eaten widely. It’s coming into my farmers’ markets now and will be widely available until next spring. Of all the greens I cook with, chard is the most versatile; it’s sturdier than spinach, yet has a more delicate flavor than other sturdy greens like kale or turnip greens.

Chard comes in different colors; the leaves are always dark green, but red chard has red stalks and yellow chard has yellow ones. No matter what color they are, chard stalks are edible and add texture and flavor to the dishes they’re cooked into. But the real source of nutrients is the greens – and chard is a nutritional powerhouse, a superb source of calcium and potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A and beta-carotene, as well as two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), which some studies have indicated can help protect the eyes against vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

And here’s a recipe to experiment with…

Skillet Mushrooms and Chard With Barley or Brown Rice

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Skillet Mushrooms and Chard with Barley or Brown Rice

Mushrooms and barley are a classic combination, but brown rice is also very nice with this dish, and it cooks faster. Whichever you use, simmer the grain in abundant water and used the drained water to moisten the mushrooms and chard.

1 cup barley or brown rice

1 quart water

Salt to taste

1 generous bunch Swiss chard or rainbow chard

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon- or mushroom-scented olive oil

1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and cut in thick slices

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme leaves

Freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup barley water

1. Combine the barley or rice and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, reduce the heat and simmer the barley for 1 hour, brown rice for 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Set a strainer over a bowl and drain the grains. Retain the cooking water.

2. While the grains are cooking, stem the chard and wash thoroughly in two changes of water. Chop coarsely. If the stalks are merely thick, dice them; if they are stringy, discard them.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a large, wide skillet or wok. Add the mushrooms and chard stems, if using, and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms sear and begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the chard and raise the heat to high. Cook, stirring, until the chard wilts, which shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes (you may have to add the chard in batches, depending on the size of your pan). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Once the chard has wilted, add 3/4 cup of the cooking water from the rice or barley. Cover and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes, or until the chard is tender. Uncover, stir and if you wish to have more sauce with the vegetables, add more cooking water from the grains and stir until it reduces to the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle on the remaining oil and serve with the grains.

Yield: 4 servings.

Advance preparation: You can cook both the grains and the vegetables several hours ahead and reheat. Retain some barley water or rice water to add to the dish if desired. The cooked grains will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, but the cooking water will keep for only a couple of days.

Nutritional information per serving: 279 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 5 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 46 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams dietary fiber; 193 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 10 grams protein

Also, another idea is to make your favorite spinach dishes, and just substitute chard instead.  I made a no-recipe vegan chard pie (like spinach pie)…trust me, this is good. Even kids tried it and liked it!

DIY pie crust (you’re own your own, I got a recipe out of Joy of Cooking and substituted butter for Earth Balance)

garlic and onions

cashews

sweet red peppers, mostly for color, 2-3 peppers

rainbow chard 1 to 1.5 bunches

nutritional yeast

salt, pepper

Soak cashews overnight, or in warm water so they become soft\

Bake pie crust until light brown, while you’re at it, you can roast the sweet peppers in a separate pan until soft

Puree cashews with as little water as possible (keep adding splash by splash in blender), until creamy, like salad dressing, add the peppers (stemmed and seeded) into mixture.  The idea is to give it an cheesy/eggy kind of color, plus, awesome flavor.  Add salt, pepper and nutritional yeast until it tastes absolutely unbeatable. Use a teaspoon at a time of nutritional yeast. If you have not used it before, it has a sort of a bready, yeasty, cheesy flavor to it.

Sautee garlic and onions to your liking, steam chopped chard overtop of these until wilted

Fill pie crust with chard mixture, then pour in cashew mixture.

Bake 350 until firm, about 15-30 minutes is my guess (it’s been a while.) It’ll become more firm upon cooling.  Cut in to pie slices and serve warm!

Oh yes, and What is Amaranth?

Remember those crazy green stalks you got in your share? AKA Pigweed? (Different from lamb’s quarters). This stuff is amaranth, and is ancient grain grown for use as a flour or whole grain eaten cooked like rice.  It is also ridiculously good for you, and is considered an valuable protein source, better than soy or cow’s milk based proteins.  Cool! What makes it even more exciting is that it grows wild. It loves open fields, and will grow as big as you allow it (5 or more feet high!) Yesterday we harvested it at the farm for a little experiment.  Contrary to the instructions I found after the fact, we are hanging it to dry and see what we can get.  The seeds are generally harvested when the plant is dry, and you can bend the flower shoot into a bucket and give it a good talking (and a little rough housing) and it will drop it’s seeds and chaffs.  The next step is to winnow, or separate the chaff from the seed.  Some of you may have read this stuff in the bible! This is the real deal-and even though hardly anyone seems to remember this stuff as being good for you, it is available in the store.  Here are some facts about its nutritional value:

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1/4 cup (41.2 g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 180
Calories from Fat 27
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3.0g 5%
Saturated Fat 1.0g 5%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 10mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 32.0g 11%
Dietary Fiber 7.0g 28%
Sugars 1.0g
Protein 7.0g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 8% Iron 20%
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet
To boot, you can also eat the greens! With so many issues surrounding the excessive consumption of corn, soy and wheat products, we need all the help we can get identifying nutritious, easy to grow, sustainable crops that work well for our climate and soil.  It looks like we have a winner.  The trick is ensuring we have enough land, and the best varieties that have been cultivated for premium seed production (for the grain), but that also tolerate the harsher conditions of a continuously wet-dry climate such as at Nuestro Huerto.
Interestingly, swiss chard, amaranth, quinoa, purslane, lamb’s quarters, beets and spinach are all in the same family-The Goosefoot family, aka Chenopodium.  The goosefoot name supposedly comes from lamb’s quarters leaf shape, appearing slightly like the foot of a goose. Lamb’s quarters is also called wild spinach due to its similar taste. Amazing!
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One thought on “Chard is wicked good for you…and what is amaranth?

  1. Thanks for all the info. I use amaranth in my oatmeal in the morn, but was never quite sure of the story behind it. Also,cant wait to try your recipe.

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