This is an adapted recipe that comes from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. The original used spinach. The pictures below are all mine.
First, sometime in April, you plant Bright Lights chard seeds about a half-inch deep in a bed tilled with lots of compost and manure. Chard is easy to grow – except for last season, when I thought rabbits were eating it but was puzzled at why bunnies would systematically eat only the large leaves and leave a smooth edge where the stem began. It turned out a homeless person was living in a nearby empty house. That’s why the “bunny” was so clever.
Anyway, a couple of weeks after germination, you thin it to about a six-inch spacing in every direction because chard is a beet relative and sprouts more than one plant per seed. You feed it organically, which here just meant leaving it alone because the bed was rich. You keep it watered until its tap roots are well established. It probably doesn’t hurt to just generally love on it and tell it that it’s beautiful.
And then, about six weeks after planting, it looks like this:
You’ll notice the jungle features lots of volunteer clover, left to flourish while I do battle with the crab grass at the back of the bed. It’ll grow larger and last until the very end of the season. Unlike spinach, chard won’t bolt or turn bitter in the heat. I’ve had it survive until nearly Christmas. Since it’s biennial, it will come back in the spring if we get even a slightly merciful winter.
When you’re ready to start cooking, you cut off just the big outer leaves with a sharp paring knife so you can harvest more later. You wash them, enjoying the absence of aphids, leafminers, or other pests – so far I’ve been lucky this year.
Here’s the chard displaying its finery before cooking fades it:
About 2 pounds of chard (you can sometimes buy Bright Lights at the grocery store, but any chard will do)
3 T. raisins (I use a bit more)
3 T. pine nuts (I use a lot more)
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly (I usually quarter them first)
1/4 cup olive oil (I use less)
I put the pine nuts in the oven at 400 degrees to roast for about 5 minutes; you could also sauté them with the garlic in some olive oil in a non-stick pan (I use a wok). Either way, you want both to be golden. While doing this, I let the stems of the chard boil or steam for a few minutes until tender and let the raisins plump up in hot water. Once the garlic is light gold, the chard leaves can be added. Stir them on medium-high until they’re wilted to your satisfaction. Add everything else, including salt and pepper to taste, and give it a few more stirs. Add more olive oil if desired (I didn’t).
And here’s what you’ve got. Yum! I used to make this a lot during the 1990s, before kids, while I was still living in Berlin and white chard (Mangold) was ubiquitous. Last night, even the Bear enjoyed it, and I wondered why I ever stopped making it regularly.