Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Silver beet

I loathed silver beet (or spinach as we called it in the seventies before we knew that spinach was in fact a delicate leafy green that came in bags labeled ‘baby’ and ‘English’) as a child. Whenever we saw it soaking in the laundry tub we knew dinner would be bo-ring. But somehow it never was - silver beet’s rich green-ness is something many children actually like the taste of, especially if it’s hidden! Mum is a great cook and her adventurous style is what saved it from being so reviled. Easy and rewarding to grow, even in a pot, silver beet sprouts new leaves when you pick off a few tender leaves from the outside - pretty cool stuff really.

Look through most English language cook books and you won’t find any such vegetable, but if you were to try under Swiss chard, you’d find exactly what you’re looking for. Swiss chard, silver beet call it what you will, this iron- and calcium-rich vegetable with its crinkly deep green leaves and creamy coloured stalks is one of the few greens to brighten up dark winter gardens and plates. Personally I prefer to call it chard, a name that sounds more enticing altogether. Then there’s ruby chard with its blood red stems and veins and its bolder, brighter sister rainbow chard with impossibly coloured stems of gold, orange, hot pink and red. But your basic silver beet is just as good as its flashier siblings and is in abundance now.

Braised chard with coriander - for 2

A long, slow braise makes for a simple but rich meal when served with lentils or plain white or brown rice. The coriander is surprisingly good here.

1 bunch of chard (any colour)

¾ cup of the stems, ends trimmed and finely chopped

½ onion, peeled and finely chopped

¼ cup of chopped fresh coriander

¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of paprika (the smoked kind is great)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

Sea salt and pepper

Cut the leaves from the stems of the chard. Wash the leaves, drain well then roll up tightly and slice into ribbons about 2 cm thick.

Chuck everything into a wide, heavy based pan with a large pinch of sea salt. Add 2 tablespoons of water, clamp the lid on tightly and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes. Check every once in a while to see that it’s not too dry and add a little more water if the mixture starts to stick. Serve with steamed rice and/or lentils.

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