Chard is a great alternative to spinach in your garden. First of all, chard is a perennial, so you can keep growing it all year long. Just plant it in early spring after the first frost. It is a “pick and harvest” crop, which means you keep taking leaves from the outside of the plant and let new leaves form, so you have an ongoing supply.
Secondly, chard is gorgeous. It comes in all kinds of colors, but I especially like the deep scarlet above. It makes a great decorative plant as well as an edible.
Third, chard does better in hot climates than spinach. I have not been able to get spinach to grow where I live in California because they always bolt or freeze before they get big enough. Chard is hardier. It handles heat, drought, and even frost better.
Chard can be used in almost any dish that calls for spinach. It has a stronger flavor than spinach, most earthy, perhaps. One of my favorite ways to prepare it is in Orangette’s Plain Jane with Chickpeas recipe. It’s so simple, yet makes a great side to any meat dish.
Plain Jane with Chickpeas by Orangette
- 2 bunches winter greens (like chard), about 1 ½ pounds total
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Trim the central ribs from the greens. You should wind up with about 1 pound of leaves, or a bit less. Wash them well in a pan of water, and drain them well in a colander.
In a 12-inch skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, and stir to mix. Add the greens, season well with salt. The leaves are bulky, so you may need to add them in batches, letting them cook down before adding more. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves have wilted enough that you can cover the skillet. Cover, lower the heat—you want to keep the contents of the pan cooking gently and slowly, with no aggressive sizzling or burning—and cook until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice.
Serve warm. Taste and adjust the seasoning just before plating.