As spring is getting into full bloom here in central Victoria and the veggie beds are getting into full-on growth mode, this is one question, or rather the answer to it, that has been circulating my brain in recent weeks.
And the reason it has been circulating is that there’s one veggie, that although really taking off now in the warmer, longer days of spring, actually kept on growing (and keeping me in a decent amount of greens) throughout the cold of winter. That veggie, folks, is the humble silverbeet, aka Swiss chard.
This veggie is so damn hardy! In fact it was one of the very first vegetables, if not the first, vegetable I ever planted here at The Off Grid Kitchen. And silly me, being an absolute, complete, 100% novice, decided to plant some silverbeet seedlings that I purchased from a local nursery in the absolute blazing heat of a mid summer afternoon (more on about when you should and shouldn’t plant out in a later post, methinks). Well, these poor plants wilted and keeled over, they looked very sorry. But with a cooler night and sucking up some decent water from the wicking bed (again, more on those in another post) they perked right up, and went on to produce profligate amounts of beautiful dark green leaves right throughout the summer and into autumn.
And so this marvellous veggie, in a few different varieties that I’ve been growing – Fordhook Giant (lovely large green leaves), Ruby Chard (with vivid red leaf blade and stems and Rainbow Chard (with multicoloured leaf blades and stems) grows in the hottest of weathers, but also will merrily keep on growing (albeit much more slowly) without any sign of frost damage in the coldest of winters (from an Australian perspective that is! We get down to -5oC, sometimes -6oC, here in central Victoria).
It’s so hardy that it really is very forgiving and I consider it a veggie that is one of the easiest to grow. It’s its hardy and forgiving nature that means it’s also a perfect vegetable for a beginner veggies grower to start growing.
So what is silverbeet (or chard or Swiss chard as it’s also known) and what can one do with it in the kitchen?
Let’s take the first part of that question. Silverbeet and other chard varieties are a leafy green vegetable, and belong to the same broad family as beetroot and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris). And this humble, hardy vegetable is seriously nutritious (as well as delicious too). According to Wikipedia (which as we all know is a totally reliable font of all knowledge……) a 100 gram serve of cooked silverbeet provides 38% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A (good for your immune system and vision), 22% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C (needed for your body to grow and repair itself) and a whopping 312% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K (needed for blog clotting and other important bodily processes). It’s also pretty high in magnesium, manganese and iron, as well as being a very good source of dietary fibre.
And what can one do with it?
Well, there’s nothing stopping you from eating it raw actually, but I’d limit the raw consumption to the newest, small, young growth which you can add to salads. The older and bigger the leaves get the more of that bitter greens taste they acquire.
That bitter greens taste, of the bigger older leaves does get cooked out, and it has a light, subtle greens flavour once sautéed.
It holds its form a lot more than spinach, it’s a lot less “wilty,” more robust, so you get more bang from your buck with silverbeet leaves in a dish than with spinach. I use silverbeet to replace spinach in a saag dahl (which is a real personal favourite meal of mine at the moment) or pretty much any other recipe that calls for spinach.
It goes really well in a spanakopita (or hortopita) – Greek spinach/ greens and feta pie. It’s bloody delicious in fact!
The leaf blades and stems have an almost celery like property and a great flavour of their own so for dishes like spanakopita I like to separate the stems and blades from the leafy parts, slice up the stems and sauté them along with the onions in the initial stages of preparing the dish.
Silverbeet makes a beautiful side dish for a Sunday roast (or dinner on any other night of the week!), just lightly sautéed down with a bit of decent olive oil, a splash of lemon juice and some crushed walnuts (I’ll have to post a recipe for that one)
If you have an excess crop you can blanch the leaves for a couple of minutes, leave to cool, and then freeze in portions for use later on.
And in the garden they also look really quite beautiful, particularly the ruby or rainbow varieties with their coloured stems!