Swiss chard

One of the easiest vegetables to grow, it will keep growing right through the winter, Swiss chard is a good source of beta carotene and dietary fibre. Also known as chard, these greens come from a variety of beet grown for its stems and leaves, not its root. The dark green leaves have a a full bodied texture similar to spinach (for which chard is a good substitute). The fleshy stalks and ribs are either white or, in red chard, a jewel like red. Unlike many greens, the stalks of Swiss chard are completely edible. Unless the chard is young, though, the stalks should be separated from the leaves and given a little extra cooking time.

Swiss chard should be displayed in a chilled display to preserve its crispness and sweetness. Look for a fresh green colour, the leaves should not be yellowed or browned, and purchase only moist, crisp, unwilted greens, unblemished by tiny holes, which indicate insect damage. Be sure that the stems are juicy and crisp.

Wrap unwashed Swiss chard in damp paper towels, then place in a plastic bag; store in the refrigerator for three to five days.

Wash chard leaves and stems before using, as they are likely to have sand or dirt clinging to them. Separate the leaves from the stems and swirl the leaves around in a large bowl of cool water. Lift out, letting the sand and grit settle; repeat if necessary. Slice or chop as your recipe directs.

Whenever possible, use the cooking liquid from chard in a gravy or add it to a soup; a significant percentage of the nutrient content of greens is released into the liquid as they cook. Don't heat Swiss chard in an aluminum pan; the chard contains oxalates and it will cause the pan to discolour. Start cooking the stems a few minutes before adding the leaves. Quick cooking will help to preserve the colour as well as the nutrients.