Monday, July 11, 2011

Swiss Chard and Other Fresh Finds

by Kelley Lindberg

Finding fresh vegetables and fruits at the store, farmers’ markets, and roadside stands is definitely one of the highlights of summer.

Last week, my son and I got to go on a tour with some friends of a local farm, East Farms, which grows more than 50 types of vegetables and supplies grocery stores and restaurants all across Utah. It was fascinating to learn first-hand how farmers buy and share water to irrigate their fields, to learn how many varieties of vegetables can grow in this climate, and to see how much work it takes to bring fresh veggies to our table every day.

My son even got to practice putting a rubber band around a bunch of spinach. Sounds easy, but he ended up shredding many of the leaves and took far too many seconds – professional pickers can cut and band around 95 bunches of spinach an hour, we heard. We have a whole new appreciation for something that looks simple and that we take for granted in the grocery store.

We also learned that our whole growing season here in Utah is about a month behind normal – so it’s not just my own garden that had a hard time getting started this year!

Even though it’s early, there are still some delicious finds in the produce aisle and farmers’ stands these days. My latest discovery is Swiss Chard. I planted some this year only because I couldn’t find any spinach to plant, and the nursery recommended Swiss Chard as an alternative. I took a chance and planted it. So far, it’s the only thing in my garden that’s growing like gangbusters, so I’m glad I did. If nothing else, it makes my garden look good. But fortunately, it also tastes good!

I hit the internet to figure out what to do with it, and found that it’s easy to prepare. Swiss Chard is similar to cooked spinach, but with a little more flavor (but milder than kale). Consumer Reports even mentioned it this month, describing it as an “overlooked” vegetable worth trying, having “a wealth of nutrients” including iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K, which are all “key for growth and immune system support.” (See Consumer Reports’Five Overlooked Vegetables that Deserve a Second Chance.”) 

The easiest way I found to cook it is to just cut or tear it into big pieces (2 inches or so), then sauté it with a little garlic in olive oil and safe margarine (about one tablespoon of each), until it wilts like cooked spinach. It’s good plain like that, or if you want, you can add a dash of your favorite flavoring to the sauté: lemon juice, white wine, or balsamic vinegar. (Sprinkling the sautéed Swiss Chard with parmesan cheese is also tasty, if you’re not allergic to dairy.) My family really liked this – even my picky son.

Another day, I sautéed diced tomatoes with the Swiss Chard using the same recipe, then put it over pasta with some sautéed shrimp. Replace the shrimp with crumbled bacon, grilled sliced chicken, or whatever your family likes for a fast and fresh summer dinner.

As the farmers’ markets are getting started, I hope to find some more fun veggies or fruits to try. If you run across an interesting new or “overlooked” veggie or a great summer recipe for an old standby, please share it! We can all use a little fresh summertime inspiration.

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