Delicious, healthy and easy to cook – get more out of the veg­etable aisle

It’s delicious, massively healthy, and easy to cook. Swiss chard may be the best veg­etable you’re not eat­ing

Men's Health (South Africa) - - REGULARS & DEPARTMENTS - BY CHRIS THOMP­SON

BE­FORE YOU MI­CROWAVE AN­OTHER

Tsad bag of peas, con­sider, if you will, hum­ble chard. Swiss chard is a tall, sturdy, leafy green with fi­brous stalks that come in a range of bright colours.

Maybe the name sounds weird to you. It did to me. But I picked up a bun­dle at the store be­cause like many men, I felt com­pelled to put some­thing green next to my steak. Once I fig­ured out how to cook the stuff, though, I didn’t even need the steak. If you know how to cook things, healthy eat­ing al­most al­ways means bet­ter eat­ing.

Be­cause chard is fairly kale­like, it is able to with­stand slow cook­ing. Be­cause it’s a hardy plant, it’s avail­able for pur­chase and in de­cent shape what­ever the sea­son. And be­cause it’s rich and ten­der with a less veg­e­tal flavour than the other big leafy greens, it’s delicious in a lot of con­texts where kale or col­lards would be over­whelm­ing.

Good food doesn’t get much sim­pler than this recipe. First, you’ll need a few things that aren’t chard: eggs, olive oil, and a hard Ital­ian cheese, like pecorino. Feel free to use this project as an ex­cuse to clean out your fridge and pantry too. Got half an onion left over from taco night? Great. Some lonely broccoli in the greens drawer? Per­fect.

And you’ll need some chard. Buy two big bun­dles. In the pro­duce aisle, you can spot it among the other pre­his­tori­clook­ing leafy greens by its pink­ish red or sunny yel­low stalks.

At home, rinse the leaves and lie them down on a cut­ting board. Use a sharp knife to trim off some of each stalk be­cause, although fi­bre is good for you and you may dis­cover that the stalk is sur­pris­ingly tasty, it is un­de­ni­ably the less delicious part. Now that you are a grownup, no one can make you eat the whole plant if you don’t want to.

Trim the stalk by cut­ting a lit­tle V at the bot­tom of the leaf and re­mov­ing the leaf from the bulki­est part of the stalk. This will en­sure that you have some of that colour­ful, fi­brous spine of the leaf, which will con­trib­ute to a bright, hearty dish. But don’t dis­card the sep­a­rated sec­tions of stalk; hang onto them for a few min­utes.

Take a big pot, add about an inch of wa­ter to it, and set it over high heat. It’ll boil quickly; now throw in all the chard pieces (in­clud­ing the stalks) and slap on the lid. You’re steam­ing the chard in order to soften it, and no part of the plant will ben­e­fit more from this soft­en­ing than the stalks. Give it, say, eight or 10 min­utes; then check on it. The leaves should have wilted sig­nif­i­cantly but not turned to mush. Pull the leafy sec­tions out. As for the bare stalks, plan on giv­ing them an­other five to seven min­utes in the steam, or un­til they’re loose and floppy – kind of like very thick, colour­ful al dente pasta. Then cut the heat and pull ev­ery­thing out of the steam and back onto your cut­ting board to cool.

While the chard is cool­ing, beat six eggs till frothy and grate a half cup of that hard Ital­ian cheese; add it to the eggs. Next, take a bite of one of the cooked stalks. If it’s not too fi­brous for you and the tex­ture is oth­er­wise to your lik­ing, keep the stalks and use them. If you like the idea of them but are con­cerned that 15cm lengths of ar­moured plant matter might be too much, maybe chop them down to bite-sized pieces. Or if you’re grimly mas­ti­cat­ing and won­der­ing when it’ll end, just toss the stalks in the garbage and move on.

At this point you’ll need to grab a square bak­ing dish and de­cide which left­over veg­eta­bles you want to add. Your egg-and­chard bake will be delicious just as it is, but it will be even more amaz­ing if you spend five min­utes caramelis­ing some chopped taco-night onion with a bit of minced gar­lic. Toss that right into the dish. Or you could throw the flo­rets of your for­got­ten broccoli back into that steam for a cou­ple of min­utes and then into the dish. Or strips of roasted pep­pers and maybe a pinch or two of red-pep­per flakes could find their way on and around the chard. Or some crum­bled ba­con. Or hey, all of the above.

Point is, once your bak­ing dish is loaded to your sat­is­fac­tion with chard and the other stuff you felt like throw­ing in there, pour the beaten eggs and cheese over ev­ery­thing and shake on some salt and pep­per. Bake it in a 180° oven un­til the eggs are set and the top is golden brown. This will take at least a half hour and maybe as long as an hour, but at this point your work is done. Check on it now and then and, once it’s cooked, haul it out of the oven and give it 10 min­utes on the counter to cool be­fore you dig in. That’s it.

You may be skep­ti­cal that this fridge-scav­eng­ing could pro­duce some­thing worth­while, but then you will take that first bite, and, whoa: delicious. It has most of what you en­joy about quiche – the fluffy, salty, rich, eggy flavour, the happy bits of trea­sure stud­ded through­out. It’s packed with chard, so it will also be rich in fi­bre and nu­tri­ents, and there’s no crust, so it will fit what­ever keto-gluten-free-Atkins-franken-diet hap­pens to be sweep­ing the na­tion.

Which­ever way you make this dish, do it in pri­vate. When peo­ple try it, they will look at you with new­found re­spect. But if they knew how easy it was to make, the game would be up.

Once you­know how to cook things, healthy eat­ing al­most al­ways means bet­ter eat­ing.

You say frit­tata, I say egg bake. Chard’s bit­ter­ness off­sets the creamy eggs and sharp Ital­ian cheese.

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