This is what the weather forecast looks like for this week. What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s so dry. Not even a doodle of rain or showers under the various sun and cloud combinations. So this week will be dry and the rain is still on hold, with temperatures almost scorching. It’s the end of November, for crying out loud, Chanukah week, but winter is taking its sweet time. We hope when it finally does feel like arriving, it’ll make a grand entry and stick around! Please join us in our encouraging cries to Mr. Winter—Please, hurry on up!
The greens are filling up Chubeza’s boxes. They love this season, with its cool-but-not-too-cool temperatures. They are not suffocating under the blanket of warmth, the insects are not torturing them like before, and they are not yet seeking cover from the frigid air, so they can look up at the smiling sun and get an even tan.
This week I would like to talk a little about Swiss chard, perhaps the most “Israeli” green of the greens, the most local for sure, uninfluenced by French trends (arugula) or American (kale) or Asian (totsoi). And it has a fascinating story and a name that reminds us of places that actually enjoy wintery winters!
It’s all about the name, Swiss chard. But in fact, Swiss chard is really not Swiss. Various sources claim it may have originated in Iraq or in the Mediterranean. Either way, it had to come from somewhere warmer than the Alps.
Swiss chard is a sibling to the beet. While the beet grows a thick, juicy root and as an afterthought sprouts long leaves, the Swiss chard concentrates its efforts on its very large leaves and its thick, crunchy leafstalk. The question is: why is this good for? Why have generations of farmers taken pains to select these big leaf plants? As you well know, the beet, too, has excellent cooking leaves. The answer is not in the leaves, which are indeed meatier, greater and stronger than the beet root leaves, but rather in the Swiss chard’s crunchy petiole (which can also be red, yellow or green).
Take a look at this “rainbow chard,” for example:
Swiss chard was developed to calm the craving for another, more venerable vegetable, the cardoon, brother of the artichoke. The cardoon has big leaves with a wide leafstalk, just like the artichoke, but its flowers aren’t as soft as the artichoke’s. It blooms with tiny, thorny flowers. Its main use as food is in the petiole, which from the days of the Roman Empire has been eaten raw, cooked, baked, steamed or fried. Every place the Romans invaded, they brought along their culinary world, including cardoon recipes. But the cardoon, sensitive to frost (like its sibling, the artichoke), simply could not travel north to more frigid areas. Northern Europe needed a substitute.
The substitute for the southern cardoon is the Swiss chard. It, too, has a thick, juicy petiole that can be consumed raw, steamed, fried or baked. True, the taste is not alike. Cardoon tastes like artichoke while the Swiss chard leafstalk tastes altogether different. But as we all know, we first eat with our eyes, so when the cravings get the best of us, we fall for the substitutes. Thus cardoon gave its name to the “chard.”
But why is it Swiss? Some think it’s because a Swiss botanist named Coch gave the vegetable its scientific name, thus in tribute it was termed “Swiss.” Another story describes how when French chefs saw this northern substitute for their beloved cardoon, they ludicrously termed it “Swiss chard.” Either way, you won’t find much of it in Switzerland, but any Italian, Israeli or Moroccan cookbook is filled with options for this vegetable, its leaves and stems. And yes, do use the white parts. Do not toss them in the bin.
Chard is frequently used as a substitute for spinach. Indeed, they are cousins who both belong to the Chenopodiaceae family. But the chard is stronger. The delicate spinach will not germinate or grow well in summertime. Chard, however, will survive even now, when the rest of the greens (kale, mustard, totsoi and spinach) have long since blossomed and wilted. In wintertime, as we’ve said, chard grows well, even braving the frost, where it freezes a bit but basically hangs in there. In general, it’s a very resilient plant. If you have chard in your garden that was frostbitten or attacked by aphids in springtime, just cut it to the base, leaving only the stump. The chard will renew itself and grow fresh, green and rejuvenated.
And if we eat chard, we’ll be just like it: strong, healthy and sturdy. Similar to its cousin the spinach, chard also contains vast amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Among its other attributes, the leaves contain a high concentration of vitamin K, and a wealth of beta carotene (which becomes vitamin A in the body) and vitamin C. Chard boasts large amounts of magnesium, is rich in zinc and is a great source of iron, calcium, dietary fibers, manganese, vitamin B6 and vitamin E.
If you’d like to keep chard for longer than just a few days, wrap it (unwashed) in a thick paper or cloth towel and place it into a plastic bag or airtight plastic box. The towel will absorb the moisture, the plastic will prevent it from drying up, and the chard will remain fresh and crunchy for a week or more.
May we enjoy a good week, of lights and festivities. May we have a Chag Sameach, and… Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!
Alon, Bat Ami, Maya and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Coriander/dill, sweet potatoes, cabbage/ eggplant, tomatoes, Swiss chard, lettuce, cucumbers, kohlrabi/turnips, carrots, arugula/kale. Small boxes only: daikon/radishes
In the large box, in addition: Lubia/green beans/Jerusalem artichoke, corn/ pumpkin, beets, broccoli /leeks.
Wednesday: Swiss chard/spinach/arugula, lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage/broccoli, cilantro/parsley, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes/daikon, kale, tomatoes, kohlrabi/turnip – in small boxes only.
In the large box, in addition: Lubia/Jerusalem artichoke, eggplants/peppers/pumpkin, beets, chive/leeks.
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, sprouts, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil and bakery products too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!
A Host of Swiss Chard Recipes
And….Three Recipes Using the Swiss Chard Stems!