Colorful beet greens and Swiss chard are hailed as superfoods. Their vibrant red hues come from anthocyanins, betalains, powerful antioxidants, flavonoids and other important phytonutrients which help prevent cancer and degenerative diseases.
Like many greens, they’re rich in important vitamins and minerals: potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, B and C, K, and fiber. Both chard and beet greens contain just 19 calories per half a cup. Magnesium is known for its ability to decrease insulin resistance, and thus can help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Recent studies show that beet greens may suppress nicotine cravings, thus helping smokers quit, and chard’s combination of nutrients is effective in preventing digestive tract cancers.
Chard and beet greens are botanical cousins. Both boast large, fan-like leaves with red veins or ribs running through them. Chard’s celery-like stalks are long, thick, crunchy, and come in vibrant colors of red, yellow, white and green. It is often grown as an ornamental for its large, bright foliage. Beet stems are thinner, and bright red in color (like the roots). Both can be used in cooking, braised or sau, although the stalks take longer to cook than the tender leaves.
Both beets and chard have great flavor and a sturdy texture. Look for greens that are fresh, young, and tender; beet greens should have small baby beets attached and chard should have long, crisp stems. The leaves should be dark-green with rich red veins and fairly long, upright stalks. Avoid any with wilted, yellowing leaves or slimy patches. Like all greens, they deteriorate quickly, so eat as soon as possible after purchase. Store them unwashed in the refrigerator, and wash in several changes of water prior to use to remove clinging sand. Do this by immersing cut up greens in a bucket of cool water, swirling them around to remove the dirt, and scooping the leaves from the top (the sand sinks to the bottom and the leaves float upwards). Rinse stalks under running water to remove dirt, cut off the end, and slice in pieces.
Both vegetables can be prepared like any other greens: sauteed, braised, even juiced. You can use both stems and leaves in stir-fries, casseroles and soups, adding the stems a bit earlier. Both stems and greens are great mixed into pasta or grain dishes, seasoned with garlic, olive oil or butter, and lemon juice or mild vinegar (like cider or balsamic). When mature, Swiss chard leaves are quite large; use lightly steamed greens instead of cabbage to wrap grain, vegetables or meat as you would stuffed cabbage.
They cook down quickly; one pound of greens will yield less than two cups when cooked, or about 4 to 5 cups when shredded for a salad. Young, tender greens are great in salads; the older ones in cooked dishes and soups. I use the stems of chard and the bright red stems of beets; they go well with strong seasonings like garlic, ham, or chilies and are great braised or stir-fried. The greens can be cooked like spinach and are delicious in egg dishes like frittatas, quiche and omelets.
Greens and Lentils Skillet
1/2 cup lentils
1/2 teaspoon salt
A little oil or fat for the pan
1/4 lb. sausage
1 stalk celery
3 – 4 garlic scapes, or 1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 green or yellow small or medium zucchini squash
1 bunch beet greens or Swiss chard
1 cup applesauce or 1 to 2 apples
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
In small saucepan, cook lentils in 1 cup salted water until lentils are soft and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
While lentils are cooking, brown sausage in a large skillet over medium heat. Lower heat, add onion, then celery, then mushrooms, then scapes or garlic and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sausage is brown and vegetables have softened. Stir in cubed or sliced squash, and cover skillet.
Wash greens thoroughly to remove sand. Slice stems in 1 inch lengths and add to skillet. Cover and let cook five to 10 minutes. Chop greens coarsely and add, along with reserved lentils. Cover and cook just until wilted, three to five minutes. Stir in applesauce. Remove from heat and stir in cider vinegar. Serve with potatoes, pasta or rice.
Greens and Beans Braise
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large bunch chard or beet greens
1/2 cup broth, water or apple juice
1 15 oz. can beans (such as garbanzo or cannelini)
1 to 2 teaspoons Balsamic or cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Shredded cheese, for garnish (optional)
Sliced olives, optional
Heat oil in large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and pepper flakes.
Separate chard or beet stems from leaves. Wash and slice the stems. Add to the skillet.
Stack 5 or 6 leaves and slice crosswise into 1 inch strips. Add to the skillet, along with a little liquid (broth, juice or water). Cover, and cook for a few minutes. Remove the lid, and add 1 can of beans, drained. Cook, stirring, to evaporate excess liquid and heat the beans through.
Taste, and season with salt, pepper and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. Serve over cooked pasta, and top with shredded sharp cheese, if you like. For a Greek flavor, use about one-fourth to one-half cup feta cheese and 1 cup of sliced olives.
Vary this by using other kinds of beans and / or greens – remember that tougher greens, like collards or kale, need to cook a bit longer, so add a little broth after sau them for two to three minutes, then cover and cook until tender.
Make this into a soup by adding a quart of broth (chicken or vegetarian) when adding the beans.
Yvona Fast – Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market”, www.wordsaremyworld.com,