Swiss Chard

"Bright lights" is a variety of Swiss chard that grows exceptionally well in Houston. You encounter this stuff all the time if know any gardeners.

You can substitute it for spinach or tender greens in lots of recipes, but it doesn't do well with long cooking. In fact, you can eat the younger leaves raw in a salad.

Swiss chard is really a beet plant that's grown for its leaves instead of its roots, so it has a flavor like beets. I like it sautéed lightly with bacon and garlic as a side dish. I have also tried to use it instead of escarole in the Italian dish called escarole and white beans. It wasn't quite bitter enough, though. The stuff is a little tricky to work with.

Cracking the Swiss chard riddle has obsessed many a chef. Saveur founder Dorothy Kalins thought the answer was to cook the stems and leaves separately. She published a very complicated recipe for chard cooked in two batches then baked with béchamel and cheese. Boston cooking instructor Helen Rennie has come up with her own simplified version of that cheesy baked chard recipe.

I've planted some chard in my garden, so if you have any recipes, I'd love to hear them.

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