Swiss chard is a member of the beet family that lavishes its energy above ground-producing large fan-like leaves, rather than a bulb. It's also known as leaf beet, seakale, and white beet, and to compound the confusion, it's not a gift of the Swiss. It was featured in the hanging gardens of ancient Babylon, and has long been a staple of Mediterranean cuisine. One account of its name says that seed catalogs used "Swiss" to differentiate it from French varieties of spinach.
Nutritionally, Swiss chard is a powerhouse. As one source puts it, if vegetables got grades for nutrients, Swiss chard would be a valedictorian. Chard's phytonutrients may help prevent colon cancer. Chard also has impressive concentrations of vitamins A, C, E and K, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc-the list goes on and on. Eating chard may promote lung health, heart function, bone density, vascular health, proper blood sugar levels, eyesight, and brain function — quite a list for a vegetable that racks up just 35 calories per cup, cooked.
One key to cooking chard is to consider it two vegetables in one. The leaves whither quickly like spinach, while the stems require more cooking. For a saute, cut out the stems, chop them, and get them in the pan first, adding the leaves after the stems have softened. Cooked chard is milder than spinach, and it's terrific in frittatas, soups and gratins. You'll recognize it by its showy good looks: stem color ranges from white to orange to scarlet; the multicolored bunches marketed as "rainbow chard" are almost too pretty to cook.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.