Veggie Newbie

Rainbow chard from Forstbauer Family Natural Food Farm.

The 2010 New Vegetable of the Year is… a rediscovered heirloom, a new hybrid, or a genetically modified Franken-veggie? Nope, it’s Swiss chard—a brand new vegetable, for me at least.

I was a picky eater as a kid. Perhaps I still am, but I’m working on it. Each year I deliberately introduce myself to a vegetable I’ve never tried before and attempt to appreciate its merits. So far the experiment has been successful, and this year’s new veggie has become a weekly staple. Who new it would be this easy?

Swiss chard goes by many names: mangold, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, crab beet, seakale beet, and silverbeet. The dark green savoyed leaves are often the only part that is eaten, though I’ve heard that the stems can be prepared as well. I am yet to find that kind of courage, though the stems are certainly beautiful enough to consider: deep yellows and reds are common colours, as are pink, white, and every shade in between.

Incredible shrinking chard, fried with leek.

I wonder if I selected this year’s new veggie due to a bit of shame and embarrassment. I’ve been aware for many years, of course, that eating dark green leafy vegetables imparts unparalleled nutritional goodness. In particular, Swiss chard is chock-full of vitamins A, C and K, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. But it was more likely the exclamation I caused at a dinner with friends when I said I had never tried chard before that got me to consider it. “You’ve never eaten Swiss chard? Ever? What about kale? Collard greens?” Ah… no, on all accounts. My friends were incredulous. I ducked my head and half-heartedly tried to own my greens-deficient identity. It’s not like I didn’t eat lettuce, for crying out loud. I’m not completely unschooled in leafy green ways.

I’ll admit that often my strategy for a new vegetable—or an old vegetable that I don’t like very much—is to make it disappear. Zucchini bread and lasagna, for example, are the only ways I eat zucchini, made possible thanks to the vanishing act this squash pulls when it is shredded and cooked. (I’m not big on slimy chunks, sorry zuke lovers.) Trying chard for the first time, this basic strategy seemed like a sound one. Much like spinach, chard leaves steam or stir fry to a tiny fraction of their original volume, making them easy to incorporate into other dishes whether called for or not. It’s been a simple matter to add the incredible shrinking chard to soups, sauces, and casseroles.

Bacon-makes-everything-better quiche, with Swiss chard in a supporting role.

It turns out that Swiss chard is good. It’s true that I’m still more likely to enjoy it in an ensemble cast than in a starring role, but so what? It’s fantastic in bacon-leek-tomato-chard quiche, and if I need another year to appreciate it on it’s own, at least it has moved off of the “never been tried” list. That list is still pretty long.

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