Typical of crops that grow well in the late spring, is the Swiss Chard, which is making its first appearance in the local farmers markets and CSA’s. It contains a lot of fiber, and a host of antioxidant vitamins. It is a tall leafy green vegetable with a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in a fuchsia, white, organge or yellow stem with wide fan-like green leaves. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile: it has the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavor of spinach leaves. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible. In fact, chard and beets formally share the same Hebrew name, selek.
It is uncertain how chard, a native of the eastern Mediterranean, moved to the west and grew plentifully. However because it grows best in coastal areas with plenty of rainfall, it’s easy to grow chard in the northeast. Their leaf regenerate after cutting, extending the life cycle of this hearty vegetable. It tolerates heat and cold, which is why it grows well on the eastern tip of Long Island, where my CSA is located.
Since I am of Central Asian descent; part Afghan, part Bukarian, where pilaf dishes play central stage to any festive meal, I incorporated the Swiss Chard into a pilaf dish that has similar imprints to my heritage. Cooked in basmati rice with walnuts and raisins, this pilaf creates a hearty dish that can be eaten throughout the week.
This dish has everything I love in a meal; brown basmati rice with walnuts, which gives it a hearty crunch, while the raisins and ginger tie the whole dish with a tad of sweetness. Of course the Swiss chards soaks up all the flavor adding peaks of forest green to this robust dish. A characteristic of pilafs is its contrasts in flavor, texture and color, which are all reflected in this dish. Enjoy!
Swiss Chard Pilaf with Walnuts and Raisins
2 cups brown basmati rice, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup jumbo raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1) Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the ginger and cook for another minute until fragrant.
2) Stir and combine the raisins and walnuts and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the walnuts brown a bit. Stir in the Swiss chard and continue cooking for 4-6 minutes, or until wilted.
3) Stir to combine the cooked rice to the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley.
Dahlia Klein’s first vegetarian cookbook will be published shortly inspired from her Central Asian heritage. She teaches Challah Baking every Rosh Chodesh focusing on the spiritual significance of each ingredient used and tying it in with the festival of the month. You can follow her on vegetarianhostess.blogspot.com