Bright Lights Chard With Panch Phoron

I have come to love chard. Although I still prefer gai lan, collards and kale, chard is fast becoming a favored green in our house. Which is good, because it is prolific here in Athens, and is very inexpensive at the farmer’s market. It also has a high amount of vitamins and minerals for the price, so not only is it a local and sustainable crop, it is good for us, too.

I especially love the brilliant colored stems of bright lights chard; the jewel-like tones contrast with the deep verdant green of the buttery leaves. The texture of the stems also adds textural interest because they are crisp and juicy, while the leaves are rich and velvety

The flavor is mild and agreeable, able to be assimilated into many different cuisines. I am particularly fond of using chard in enchilada fillings, but I have also found that it does well in Indian dishes.

Especially simple stir fries like this one: Chard with Panch Phoron.

As noted elsewhere, panch phoron is a Bengali mixture of equal parts of five spices: oniony nigella, musky cumin, sweet fennel, sharp mustard, and nutty fenugreek. Toasted in hot oil, and tossed with vegetables, the spice mixture is a fountain of flavor; when caramelized onions, golden garlic, chiles and lemon juice are added, a simple green like chard is elevated into a revelation of flavor. When the chard is as colorful as “bright Lights” the dish becomes as beautiful as it is flavorful.

And another bonus–it is all quick and easy to prepare.

A perfect dish served with dal, basmati rice and sliced tomatoes.

Bright Lights Chard With Panch Phoron


3 tablespoons canola or mustard oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1-3 fresh red or green cayenne or serrano chile peppers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon panch phoron
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound chard, the very bottom of stems trimmed off, then leaves and stems cut into 1″ wide pieces, then roughly chopped
juice of one lemon
salt to taste


Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until it is medium golden brown. Add cayenne, panch phoron and garlic and continue cooking until mustard seeds pop and the onions are dark reddish brown and garlic is golden colored.

Add chard, and lemon juice, and cook, stirring until leaves wilt and stems are tender crisp–this should take just a few minutes.

Add salt to taste and serve immediately with rice, a dal dish and other vegetable dishes for a delicious Indian vegetarian meal.


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  1. I too prefer chard over spinach these days. They retain their crunch and don’t go mushy like spinach. Love the stir-fry with panch phoron.. Just read about it in Sandeepa’s blog.

    Comment by Suganya — June 14, 2007 #

  2. I tried panch phoron with asparagus the other day after reading about it here. Delicious! What do you think about the wikipedia article for panch phoron, which suggests using celery seed instead of mustard?

    Comment by Matie — June 14, 2007 #

  3. I think it wouldn’t be nearly as good with celery seed instead of mustard, Matie. Celery seed would skew the flavor toward the green, herbal flavor of the fennel and the fenugreek too much. It would also skew towards a vegetal flavor along with the nigella/kalonji seed. It would be too oniony-celery in flavor.

    I might try it with dal, though, just to see. But in general, I think that the mustard seeds are just too good to pass up.

    Comment by Barbara — June 14, 2007 #

  4. Where do you buy your Nigella? I’ve looked in every store I go to (including the mediterranian, indian and asain stores) and I just can’t find it. Is there any substitute?

    Comment by Steffie — June 17, 2007 #

  5. Where do you buy your Nigella? I’ve looked in every store I go to (including the mediterranian, indian and asain stores) and I just can’t find it. Is there any substitute?

    Comment by Steffie — June 17, 2007 #

  6. Steffie–you can get it in Indian markets under the name of kalonji.

    Try your local Indian market under that name, and if you still cannot find it, I will give you a link to an online source.

    Comment by Barbara — June 18, 2007 #

  7. Food Blog Roundup: 06.19.2007

    Summer food and summer cooking… what’s going on around the food blogosphere this week? Alanna at A Veggie Venture offers vegetable inspiration for every kind of veggie you can imagine. This week she has a beautiful and unusual Beet Pesto….

    Trackback by Apartment Therapy Food — June 19, 2007 #

  8. I made this last night as an accompaniment to dal and rice. It was a huge hit with my family! Yum! This has definitely won a place in the rotation.

    I used 1/2 chard and 1/2 collards. The added contrast of a hardier green was nice, too, I thought.

    Comment by SecretNatasha — June 20, 2007 #

  9. Oooh, Natasha–I love collard greens cooked Indian style! I am glad that you have a repeat recipe for your family in this one. It is simple, but so good and good for you.

    You can do this with just about any green, you know.

    Comment by Barbara — June 20, 2007 #

  10. Thanks for this recipe, Barbara. I ran across pre-made panch phoron mixture at an Indian market recently (realizing that though it was spelled puran, it must be the same thing) and had some mustard greens to use up, and while I didn’t follow your recipe exactly it was a great inspiration. The mustards did make it pretty mustard-y, but I like that.

    Comment by Alexis — July 16, 2007 #

  11. I made this last night, and loved it. Had it with rice and steak, because it was too hot in the house to make dal. My boyfriend tells me that the leftovers are even good the next day.

    I just wanted to say how delighted I am to find recipes like this one. I had every spice required already in the kitchen, but had never had anything like this combo, let alone with this chard, before. Thanks

    Comment by Morgan — July 17, 2007 #

  12. Alexis–this would be great with mustard greens–I am glad you liked it. I think it could be made with any green vegetable, really. It is just a very tasty way with greens.

    Morgan–I am glad you liked this recipe, and I am glad you tried something new. Try this recipe with other vegetables–the truth is, I have done it with greens, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, squash, eggplant and asparagus, and I have yet to find a vegetable that doesn’t taste good cooked this way. Panch phoron is just magical I guess!

    Thanks for dropping by to let me know you liked it–good luck with future cooking endeavors!

    Comment by Barbara — July 18, 2007 #

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