By Teresa Marrone
Here’s the perfect hardy green for Minnesota springtime. A relative of the beet, chard is grown for its thick but tender leaves and its juicy, crunchy ribs. Like spinach, it is frost tolerant, so it is one of the first plants to go into the ground; it can be planted several weeks before the last expected frost. Chard grows well in containers, making it a natural for anyone with a balcony or porch. It’s also readily available in the markets, so you can enjoy it even in the doldrums between the end of winter and the start of fresh spring produce.
Chard comes in an array of colors, depending on variety. Its ruffled, glossy leaves range from bright green to reddish-green to almost black. The ribs, though, are really the Technicolor portion of the plant. Rhubarb Chard has red ribs and wine-red leaves; Orange Chiffon’s tangerine-colored ribs and richly colored leaves make it look like a traffic cone in a forest of emerald. Canary Yellow has gorgeous yellow ribs with lime-green leaves, while Flamingo Pink boasts neon-pink ribs with light green leaves. The Plain Jane of the family, Fordhook Giant, has white ribs with glossy, bright green leaves. For the undecided gardener (or shopper) Rainbow Chard, also called Bright Lights, offers ribs in five different colors: pink, bright gold, pale orange, red and white.
As you might expect from such a deeply colored vegetable, chard is full of good stuff,
including whopping amounts of vitamins K, A, and C. It’s also rich in magnesium, iron,
manganese and lots of other trace elements that are best obtained through food rather than through a pill. It cooks down a good bit, so that huge-looking bunch in the store will serve four as a side dish. I love chard best when it’s lightly cooked, as in the recipes here; young, tender chard can also be enjoyed raw.