I’m always a bit surprised that blood doesn’t gush out when I cut into red chard.
Eating greens was a rite of passage for me. As a little kid, the pile of dark mush looked like something my grandmother pulled back out of the garbage can. I watched her eat fried fish tails and suck the marrow out of chicken bones, so I assumed that greens fell into the category of “things you learn to eat on a farm”. When she offered me a serving, I’d crinkle my nose and shake my head. I didn’t know how anyone would willingly subject themselves to that.
But then, around the age of 8, my grandmother suggested I try the collard greens with a little drizzle of vinegar. She had already won me over to okra by frying it and gave squash the heavy butter treatment so that I fell in love with it, too. But, there was nothing so glamorous to disguise the true nature of greens. Bitter, sour, dark, chewy, and wholly nutritious, you had to accept greens for what they really were: pure vitamin delivery vehicles. If I could appreciate the flavor and experience of eating them, I knew I would no longer be a little kid. I would be strong like my grandmother.
After that first, timid taste, I finally understood how to eat cooked leaf. At the K&W cafeteria, I began to order a dish of greens every time. Drizzle the vinegar, sprinkle the salt and eat them with a bite of cornbread. My grandmother told me turnip greens would be sweeter, mustard greens spicier. I gave them a shot and I’ve been eating greens ever since.
But, I never tried chard until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. What a revelation. All the weight and chew of collards, but with a sweetness that I never tasted in greens before. And, the colors! When I cooked up a mess of chard, they glistened in a pool of bright red liquor. The hardy greens of my Southern childhood were full of strength and practicality, but chard had a little sexiness. Their leaves weren’t content to be pure green, scarlet ribs and vessels showed exactly where the life flowed.
I now make greens several times a week, rotating through kale, collards, turnip, mustard and chard. Washing, trimming and slicing the greens still often feels like a chore, a long process that can’t be avoided. However, I treasure the butchering of chard. I am keenly aware that the leaves I cut were once alive. And as I separate the tender leaf from the rib, I half expect to see that life come spilling out all over the counter. It doesn’t, of course. Instead, it spills into me.
serves 4 a side dish… or 1 hungry mom
1 Bunch Chard
3 cloves garlic
0.5 tsp Salt
0.5 tsp Sugar
+ Put a cast iron skillet on the stove, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat onto medium low.
+ Mince each of the garlic cloves in a press. (I used to chop the garlic, but I found the garlic press minced the garlic in a way that gave me even more garlic flavor. It’s a pain to clean the press, but I think it’s worth it.)
+ Put the garlic into the warm oil. Keep an eye on the skillet, you don’t want the garlic to brown, you just want it to flavor the oil in the pan.
+ While the garlic steeps, slice the chard. I first slice the ribs out of the center of each leaf. Then I stack the trimmed leaves on top of each other and slice them into thin ribbons.
+ Wash the sliced leaves THOROUGHLY. This is another step that feels like a chore. Isn’t one washing enough? Not when you get gritty sand in a bite later. So, I use my salad spinner and rinse the greens three times. (I don’t dry the leaves, though, just drain them. The water clinging to the leaves is what will be the braising liquid.)
+ Turn the skillet up to medium heat. When the garlic just begins to sizzle in the oil, put the wet, sliced chard into the pan. (I love the popping and crackling sound when I do that.)
+ Saute the greens until they wilt. Sprinkle the greens with the salt and sugar.
+ Let the greens cook gently for 5-10 minutes. (It just depends on how big your bunch was and how wide your pan is.) Because there is so little water, but a nice amount of oil, the greens will cook down, the water will evaporate and then the green will begin to sizzle again, getting a little crisp at the edges as they almost fry at the end of the cooking time. The little bit of sugar will give the greens a shiny glaze.
I love the mix of soft and crisp texture and I always give myself the biggest serving. My children eat them out of bravery right now, but once they figure out the joy of greens, I won’t be able to hog them all anymore. Of course, I’ll be happy to share. After all, blood is thicker than chard.