Regular readers are probably tired of hearing me prattle on about Swiss Chard. But Charlotte and Freddie at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge are looking for some quick recipes, and the first thing that sprang to mind is my favorite way of preparing chard.
That would be braised in a skillet and finished with pomegranate molasses.
You have to understand that Swiss Chard represents something very special to the vegetable gardener. Chard grows like a champ through all kinds of weather. When other plants are wilting in the heat, chard is standing tall. When other leafy vegetables have crumped from the cold, chard is itching for some action.
Best of all, chard is a cut-and-come-again vegetable, meaning you can harvest it--cutting the whole bunch of stems and leaves close to the ground--and it just sends up more stems and leaves. After being cut once or twice, the leaves seem to remain a deep red--like poinsettias but muskier--rather than turning green. So right now after the first big chill and snowfall, we have a natural Christmas display in our kitchen garden out front with all those Swiss chard plants, right here in the District of Columbia one mile from the White House.
Most often when you see recipes for chard they call for cutting the leaves off the stems, cooking the leaves and discarding the stems. This is something I cannot fathom. The stems are the best part. The stems are succulent and flavorful. They are screaming with flavor like big juicy beets--and guess why? Because they are related to beets. So expect that kind of flavor when you cook the stems. When I prepare chard, I just chop everything--stems and leaves--into 1-inch pieces.
Now, for this quick recipe. I had never timed the braising of the chard before. The idea is to cook it, covered, in a heavy skilled until the stems are tender, then mix in some pomegranate molasses (readily available at Whole Foods and Middle Eastern markets here in the States) at the end for the added flavor.
To speed things up a little, I heated the skillet (my largest iron skillet) on the stove top over high heat and added about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. I let that get smoking hot while I first cut half a red onion into thin slices. I placed those in the skillet, then chopped a whole bunch of Swiss Chard (wash it first, of course). Put the chopped chard into the skillet with the onion, then add about 1/3 cup red wine (the alcohol will cook off) and a splash or two of red wine vinegar. Season everything with coarse salt and cover tightly. (You might have quite a pile of greens if your skillet isn't as large as mine. They will cook down, of course. But if things don't look right to you, try doing this in a big, heavy pot or Dutch oven.)
When you hear the liquid boiling, reduce heat and continue cooking at a brisk pace. After five minutes, lift the cover and stir the vegetables. Cook another seven or eight minutes, covered, or until the chard stems are tender. If the skillet should run dry in the meantime, add a splash of wine or water. After everything has cooked enough, stir in about 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses. (The molasses can be heated in the microwave if it's slow coming out of the bottle.)
I found the total cooking time to be about 13 minutes. There will still be a little toothsomeness to the chard stems and the onion. The color will remain a deep, unctuous magenta. Serve this with a roasted chicken and a brown rice pilaf of some sort, maybe with caramelized mushrooms and toasted walnuts. Don't tell anyone how easy it was, just bask in the praise.