What a beautiful vegetable! Chard is in the same vegetable family as beets—which explains the lovely color—and spinach, too.
The name chard comes from cardoon (chardon in French), a celery-like plant with stalks similar to chard. The French confused the two, calling them both carde. You'll often see the word "Swiss" partnered with chard; that's because 19th century seed catalog publishers wanted to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties. It's also called silverbeet, spinach beet and mangold.
While pretty enough to be grown ornamentally, you'll want to be sure to benefit from chard's nutritive value, too. Rich in dietary fiber, chard is also very high in vitamins A and K. It's also a good source of vitamins C and E as well as magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron. It provides some calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins. Looking to boost your antioxidants? Chard contains more than a dozen.
Chard has distinctively wrinkled, dark green leaves with vivid stalks ranging from red to white to orange and yellow.
Strongly flavored red chard looks a bit like rhubarb. Ruby Red and Crimson Giant are popular varieties. White chard has white stalks and is milder than red; it's sometimes called Sweet White Chard. Fordhook Giant and Silverado are white chard varieties.
There are also yellow varieties, light Bright Yellow and El Dorado, and orange- and pink-stalked chards like Orange Fantasia and Peppermint. For a blast of color, look for Bright Lights or Rainbow varieties, which offer an array of bright pinks, red, oranges, yellows, whites and greens.
Young, tender chard leaves can be eaten raw, if your tastes run on the robust side, but chard is usually cooked (cooking softens the slightly bitter, astringent taste). Chard can be substituted for other cooked greens in just about any recipe—consider swapping for the spinach on a pizza or in a frittata, for example.
It's easy to transform a ho-hum dish into a beautiful one using colorful chard. The flavor and color of chard pairs well with grains and pasta, as in this luscious Miso Ginger Stir-fry with Sea Vegetables and this Penne with Braised Squash & Greens.
Add the deep green leaves to gratins, like this chili-spiced Sweet Potato and Greens Gratin. There's something deeply satisfying about chard; it seems to turn any dish into comfort food. It certainly works well in soups and stews andtry it in your next tomato sauce, too.
For a side, simply sauté chard with a bit of olive oil or garlic. Or add it to salads, like this Dijon-dressed White Bean & Chard Pasta Salad.
Use chard to make chips (a la kale chips). Simply toss with a little oil and the seasoning of your choice, then roast in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
The peak season for chard is June through August. Look for bright leaves with no browning or yellowing, few holes and no wilting. The stalks should be crisp, unblemished and vividly colored.
Store chard in a loosely sealed produce or plastic bag in the refrigerator—away from fruits, many of which emit ethylene gas that will hasten its demise—for up to five days (the sooner you eat it the better). Don't wash before storing or it will encourage spoilage. Chard can also be blanched and frozen.
Learn more about Swiss Chard.