Local Produce Find: Bright Lights Chard

It isn’t often that I come across a vegetable that I have not yet tried, but when I do, I nearly always buy some, cook it and see what it tastes like.

Most of the time, I like it pretty well, but sometimes, I find something that I just love.

Chard is one of those “I just love” vegetables.

Why have I never had chard until this year?

I have no ruddy idea, really, except that it was not one of the greens we grew when I was a kid, so we never cooked it, so I never ate it. Then, I also have had to contend with a string of folks with whom I live not being the most enthusiastic eaters of greens in the world, so that put a damper on the, “let’s just try it and see what happens” mode of culinary experimentation that I favor. It has only been recently that Zak has been willing and even thrilled with trying new greens, at least, so long as they are stir-fried.

So, when I bought the chard two weeks ago that I used in my Ten Steps to Better Chicken From a Wok post, I actually didn’t know it was chard. I just thought it looked good. I found that it also tasted good.

Last week at the farmer’s market, when I saw “Bright Lights” chard, I nabbed it up, knowing full well what it was, because I had seen it in seed catalogues for the past couple of years and drooled over the gorgeous colors of the ribs and veins of the leaves. They are lovely, aren’t they? Red, yellow, orange and fuschia, all framed by brilliant emerald green. This chard is pyschedelic in form, if not in effect–it is dressed in the colors Goldie Hawn used to sport in her minidresses on “Laugh-In.” (I am showing my age, am I not?)

Of course, I had to buy it and figure out a stir-fry to feature it in. It was too stained-glass pretty to pass by.

I was in a tofu mood last night, so I pulled out a package of Spring Creek and decided to cook that along with the greens. I added a chicken breast for Zak and Morganna who do not always want just tofu, and then seasoned it all with scallions and green garlic from the farmer’s market, as well as three of the Thai dragon chiles I had in the freezer from last fall’s market growers.

And I -had- to add some fermented black beans. They add so much flavor to the tofu, and their funkiness really compliments the earthy quality of the chard. Besides, I love them with chicken, too.

This particular brand of tofu is great for stir frying, because it really is extra firm, so much so that one needn’t press it to push out the water that softens it. It is firm enough to just take from the package, slice up into whatever shapes you like, marinate and then stir fry. Of course, because I was going to be stir frying with chicken, meant that I had to get creative with how to put the dish together–if you stir fry the chicken and then add the tofu, the chicken will get over done while the tofu is underdone, and if you stir hard enough to move the chicken, the tofu gets bunged up and falls apart, even if it is extra firm. Besides, cooking the two at once overcrowds and cools down the wok and that is never, ever a good thing.

What to do?

Cook in stages, obviously. Which is what I did–I put the aromatics in first, then the marinated tofu, into a single layer on the bottom of the wok. When the bottom was browned to my satisfaction, I flipped the tofu over once, let it brown on the second side, and then scooped it all into the serving bowl to wait. I left as many aromatics as were not clinging to the tofu in the wok as I could, and then threw in the chicken and cooked as normally. Once the chicken was nearly done, in went the chard stems (I cook the stems a bit longer so they will be tender crisp, while the leaves are velvety-wilty–if you put them in together, the stems will be underdone or the leaves overdone) then, added the tofu back in just before I put in the chard leaves, and finished off the dish.

It is all a matter of timing, prioritizing and paying attention to your ingredients.

The finished dish was admirable, and most of it was eaten. The tofu was creamy on the inside, with a bit of crisp laciness on the outside; the chicken was tender and steamy and the chard stems were crisp and watery, and retained their lovely colors, while the leaves were rich on the tongue. The use of dark soy sauce in conjunction with the fermented black beans, scallions and garlic made a deeply flavored sauce that blanketed each bit of food with a clinging coat of deep flavor, while still allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to shine through.

It was definately a good experiment.

Now I just have to figure out a way to make chard as a side dish to a Western style meal. Maybe sauteed with garlic, scallions and olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar? That might be nice.



Tofu, Chicken and Chard Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

16 ounces extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1″X1/2″ slices
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao hsing wine
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
6 stalks green garlic, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal–white and light green parts
6 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thinly on the diagonal
3 Thai dragon chiles, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 tablespoons lightly crushed fermented salted black beans
2 tablespoons shao hsing wine
1/2 pound chard, big stems cut into 1″ long pieces, and kept separate; leaves cut into 2″ square pieces
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Method:

Cut tofu block into slices, about 1/2 inch thick and 1 1/2″ square.

Mix together first measure of soy sauces and cornstarch to form a thick, dark paste, and rub into the tofu slices and then pour the rest of the thick marinade over them. Set aside to marinate for at least twenty minutes.

Toss chicken pieces with the soy sauce, wine, honey, and cornstarch, and allow to marinate twenty minutes.

Heat wok until it smokes. Add oil and heat until it shimmers–about thirty seconds to a minute.

Add the garlic, scallions, chiles and black beans and stir and fry for about thirty seconds. Slide most of the aromatics up the sides of the wok and add tofu in a single layer to the bottom of the wok. (IF there is any liquid marinade left–reserve it.) Allow to sit undisturbed to brown on the bottom–about a minute and a half. When it is brown, flip over the tofu and allow other side to brown–about a minute. When both sides are brown, remove tofu to serving dish and set aside. (Try to keep as many aromatics in the wok as possible!)

Add chicken to wok, settle it into a single layer, and lay aromatics over it. Allow to sit undisturbed until it browns–about a minute. When it browns, begin stir frying as is normal, until chicken is halfway done. At this point, add the second quantity of wine, and deglaze wok. When chicken is nearly done, add in chard stalks and stir fry for about thirty seconds. Add tofu back to wok, with any aromatics that came with it, stir fry gently for about twenty seconds.

Add chard leaves and any liquid marinades from the tofu and chicken and the chicken broth. Stir fry gently, trying to get the hot chicken, tofu and chard stems on top of the leaves, and as soon as leaves wilt, turn off heat, season with sesame oil, and scrape into a warmed serving bowl.

Serve with steamed rice.

18 Comments

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  1. YUM! we’ll be making this soon, as our vegetable box is coming on Monday and will probably contain some leafy green or other. I’ll take your advice re: cornstarch.

    Comment by Hadar — May 13, 2006 #

  2. Beautiful dish! I love chard. When I was young I couldn’t wait until it was large enough for my mother to send me out with a knife to harvest it. Here’s how she made it.
    Cut thicker stems into chunks and drop in boiling salted water and cook until slightly soften. Cut leaves up a little and add to the boiling water, cook for a few more minutes. Drain well, add a little olive oil, slices of garlic and salt to taste. Serve chilled or room temp.
    Leftovers (when there were any) was served next day for lunch with a hunk of good bread.

    Comment by Carol — May 13, 2006 #

  3. Yummy! I just got home from planting chard. Alas, it’s just plain old white chard.

    Comment by Kiwi Carlisle — May 13, 2006 #

  4. I’m mad for chard, but not a big tofu fan, so I may pass on this one. Chard’s my favorite leafy green I think, and I love there are so many varieties. I buy Rainbow Chard mostly for the colors and the lift it gives me to pop it in my grocery basket.

    Comment by Diane — May 13, 2006 #

  5. Ha! I recently posted on food porn for ideas on what to do with the beet greens that I had left over from the beets I had used for a Sri Lankan dish. This looks great.

    Also I just made Shepard’s Pie tonight using some of the ideas from your post on the subject. It was the tastiest shepard’s pie I’ve had in a good long while. Thanks for the great ideas.

    Comment by Benjamin — May 13, 2006 #

  6. My mother prepares her greens in the same way as Carol upthread, so I’m sure that’d work with chard. It gives a great flavour to the greens without losing that distinct flavour. Wonderful side to a meat or chicken dish.

    Comment by Stephanie — May 14, 2006 #

  7. Barbara–what delicious description! You were making my mouth water (even though I’ve already had dinner).

    I hated chard as a child but have grown to love it as an adult. For a western style dish try a saute with olive oil, garlic, chard leaves (I use the stalks for making soup stock), with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Elise at Simply Recipes had a chard tzaziki last week that is so good I’ve made it twice already. Chard’s also great in soups like ribolita.

    Comment by Tea — May 14, 2006 #

  8. We have chard quite a lot; it seems to be a regular feature of our veg box. We often have it just steamed as a side dish, on the occasions when we’re eating the sort of food that has side dishes. I also have a very good recipe (from Denis Cotter’s Paradiso Seasons) for rigatoni with chard, red onion, cannellini beans and roasted red pepper cream, which you might like to try.

    Comment by Sadie — May 14, 2006 #

  9. Hey, everyone! I am very glad to see so many chard lovers out there–it is always an excitement for me to find a “new favorite vegetable” to love.

    Hadar–Tofu stir-fried in this method is very good, and easily done. If you leave out the chicken, you shouldn’t have to take the tofu out of the wok, just stir the chard stems carefully when you cook them. But really, really firm tofu is a joy to stir-fry.

    Carol–that method sounds good to me. I’ll give it a shot when next I get a bunch of chard!

    Kiwi–the flavor of the “Bright Lights” is the same earthy, salty flavor of the regular white and green chard–so the only thing you are missing is the pretty colors, and maybe some phytochemicals and antioxidants. Otherwise, it is nutritionally the same stuff–a powerhouse of folic acid and flavor.

    Diane–leave off the tofu, then! Just do chicken, or with the dark soy sauce, you could use pork. Or–if you have a Chinese deli nearbye, you can get some char siu to cut up and use in the recipe, though with char siu, I would lower the amount of black beans and leave out the honey.

    Benjamin–as always, I am glad that my blog has serendipitously helped with your request re: beet leaves. Because, of course, chard and beets are related and the leaves taste almost the same.

    As for the shepherd’s pie–I am very happy to hear you have made some of the best ever! That really makes me happy–anytime I can help someone make better tastes for themselves and their families, it gives me a glow. That was a great mother’s day present to me. Thank you!

    Stephanie–then, I will -definately- have to try the recipe! Two moms cannot be wrong….

    Well, Tea, I am glad to know that my powers of description have not failed me!

    I think that the chard would have gone well in the Sausage, Kale and Potato soup. And the saute sounds great. I will have to try Elise’s recipe, too–her stuff is always good.

    Sadie–that rigatoni with chard, red onion, cannellini beans and roasted red pepper cream sounds FABULOUS!!!! Wow! I -must- try that. Wow.

    Comment by Barbara — May 14, 2006 #

  10. Thanks for this recipe.
    I planted rainbow chard last year–among its other virtures, it’s really easy to grow.

    Comment by lucette — May 14, 2006 #

  11. I’d never had chard before I started subscribing to a local farm’s veggie boxes; now I really look forward to it.

    One chard recipe I got with my veggie boxes was for pasta & greens; I believe it was just chard & garlic sauteed in olive oil; add pasta and a little pasta water, some cayenne, and pine nuts.

    Comment by Castiron — May 15, 2006 #

  12. Hello, Lucette!

    If chard is easy to grow, then once the terracing is done out back so we can have a real garden, with veggies, fruits and flowers in the sun (most of the front where we are currently able to garden is heavily shaded. The deck gets lots of sun, though, so that is where most of the herbs and the tomatoes are….)I will plant some “bright lights.” I like to do a cottage garden effect, with food plants, fruits, herbs and flowers all intermingled into a great tangle of loveliness anyway, so I think that the chard would make a neat edging….

    Castiron–that sounds very tasty. I might add caramelized onion to that, too.

    Comment by Barbara — May 15, 2006 #

  13. Gorgeous colors! Do they remain vibrant after cooking?

    Comment by Laura — May 15, 2006 #

  14. Laura, stir-fried, they are still pretty vibrant. They dull down a wee bit, but not that much. Not enough to look bad at all, in my opinion.

    If you grow it, you can also harvest it when it is young and eat its immature leaves and stems in salad. Then, the colors would be bright and clear.

    Comment by Barbara — May 16, 2006 #

  15. I too have never tried chard and I will give it a go. I’m a somewhat new blogger and have been perusing your archives. We have a great deal in common — Fiesta ware! I have Fiesta in almost (if not every) room of the house. I’m thinking about doing a posting on it very soon. Love the site.

    Comment by Kevin — June 1, 2006 #

  16. Ah, another Fiestaware fan! Welcome, Kevin–I am glad to meet you.

    Chard is well worth trying. I want to try out a chard au gratin that I saw in Fine Cooking a couple of months ago, but I have to find the magazine again. I think my daughter carried it off.

    Do you collect the old or the new Fiesta, or both? Primarily, I have the new pieces, but I have a few bits of my Gram’s Fiestaware that is vintage–especially that turquoise blue platter that is featured in so many photos for the blog.

    Comment by Barbara — June 2, 2006 #

  17. We have gobs of Fiesta, both old and new. Most of it belongs to Ed who has lots of collector items, colors and the old radioactive red pieces (really a fiery orange). The office, where I am sitting now, is the only room that is not home to at least one piece of Fiesta. Oops, I take that back. There is a coffee mug sitting on my desk. :)

    Comment by Kevin — June 3, 2006 #

  18. Your recipe sounds terrific and I will try it.
    I loved growing swiss chard because it is so prolific and does not bolt. I made it in many different ways. But, one of my favorites ways was from a side that I had in Toronto at a restaurant named Billy Bob’s. They actually used rapini, but I found it to be good with any greens.
    I am not sure how they made it but to me it tasted like bruschetta. So, I made my own version which was to prepare the greens and then toss in at the last minute – fresh tomato, minced garlic, olive oil, a bit of sugar, salt, lots of ground pepper and toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.
    Julie

    Comment by Julie — October 19, 2006 #

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