There are many different ways to cook chard, a leafy green vegetable in the beet family. Steaming, braising and boiling are some of the most common methods for stems and leaves alike. All parts of the plant are edible, though the tough stems often need to cook for a bit longer than the leaves in order to be palatable. Most of the time, chard can be cooked just as any other leafy green would, including spinach or kale.
Steaming is one of the simplest cooking methods to master. Cooks place clean leaves in a deep pot with just a splash of water, then cook over medium heat until the water vaporizes and the leaves are left just tender. Professional steamers and steaming baskets can be used for large quantities, but are not required. Chard’s leaves are generally quite sensitive, and should not be steamed for more than two or three minutes. Immediately immersing them in cold water will stop the cooking past this point.
Steamed chard is often used as an topping for legume or potato dishes, particularly those involving lentils. It may also be seasoned with butter or topped with lemon juice, salt, or a variety of light seasonings and served as a stand-alone side dish — prepared this way, it is a popular accompaniment to many seafood and poultry dishes. Leaves steamed whole can be used as wraps for meats, rice, or salty cheeses, as well.
The leaves and stems can also be lightly braised in stock or water. Braising is a relatively simple cooking method in which loosely chopped greens are immersed in liquid, briefly allowed to simmer, then drained. Braised leaves can be eaten on their own or can be used to dress up a number of dishes. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine in particular may call for “crisped chard,” which is usually achieved by braising then briefly pan-frying the leaves over high heat.
Baked, Sauteed or Fried
Many cooks use the leafy green as a filler for dishes like omelets, quiches, and casseroles. Chard lends both bulk and flavor to a number of baked and pan-fried foods, and can typically be used anywhere spinach would be. Cooks can sautee leaves and stems alongside mushrooms and other vegetables to create side dishes and sauces, or can add them to stir fries as an alternative to bok choi or other Asian vegetables.
Chard can also be boiled, typically as an addition to a hearty soup or stew. Cooks will generally add the leaves near the end of the cooking process so that they will retain their color and texture — if boiled for too long, the vegetable tends to break down and lose its crispness. While this is not in and of itself bad, it does not usually lend the look or taste chefs are going for.
Special Considerations for Stems
In most cases, the stems are perfectly edible though they do tend to be tougher than the leaves; as such, they usually need to be cooked for a bit longer. Preparing both together is possible, but usually requires a bit of coordination. It is not uncommon for cooks to add chopped stems to a pan or skillet first, including the leaves only once things have begun to grow tender. Undercooked stems often have a somewhat bitter taste, while overcooked leaves can be relatively tasteless.
How Cooking Affects Nutritive Content
Raw chard is packed with vitamins and minerals, and proper cooking will not affect this. Overdoing things can be destructive, though. Chard boiled or braised for too long will lose some of its vitamins to the water. Burning the leaves or stems can also cause mineral loss. The best bet is to cook the vegetable quickly over medium to low heat, taking care to remove it the moment it begins to wilt.
Selection and Storage Tips
When selecting chard for cooking, it is best to choose bunches that are vibrant green with crisp leaves. Fresh bunches typically cook most consistently and have the most nutritive value. Chard should be kept under refrigeration until ready to cook or eat, and should always be thoroughly washed and either towel dried or spun before beginning.