Mighty greens

Swiss chard is a winter wonder which sometimes stumps even the best cooks. Here's a way to gain from from its huge health benefits while making something really elegant.

Swiss Chard 224.88 (photo credit: Noam Levy)
Swiss Chard 224.88
(photo credit: Noam Levy)
Winter in Israel is all about vibrant greens. So is the market, which is flushed with the most tempting greens of the year. Fresh, vibrant and teeming with life. I'm always drawn to those islands of green in the market, waiting to inhale those smells of a fairy-tale meadow. I can easily fill my fridge with all green if I'm not careful. One of the most versatile of greens is Swiss chard. I use it often in staple dishes like omelets and quiches, yet also go wild with it on occasion with more complex uses. Swiss chard is surprisingly earthy and robust. It can take the place of spinach whenever you can't get it or want chard's health benefits (assorted vitamins, minerals and a lot of fiber). In addition, the large leaves are perfect for rolling, and can make a wide variety of vine-leaves style dishes. Here is an example of an Asian-influenced preparation. It sounds complex, but I assure you the preparation is truly straight forward. SEARED SEA BASS STEAMED IN SWISS CHARD ROLLS WITH LEMON-SOY VINAIGRETTE Serves 4 * 300 gr. sea bass fillets (can substitute with striped bass or sea bream) * 1 tsp. coriander seeds, crushed * 1 bunch large Swiss chard, washed (about 500 gr.) * 2 shallots or 1 small onion * 2 garlic cloves * 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, lightly toasted * Sesame oil (preferably cold pressed) * Fresh ground black pepper 1. Place a heavy skillet on high heat and let it get really hot. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil, move it around the pan and sear the fillets, skin side down, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with a touch of salt and pepper. Turn over and cook for 2 minutes more. Throw in the coriander seeds and season again. You might need to do this in a few batches, depending on the size of the skillet. 2. Meanwhile, cut the stems off all the chard leaves, and leave 7 of the largest, nicest leaves aside. Chop the stems to 0.5 cm. thick slices. Stack the rest of the chard, roll up the stack and slice to 1 cm. thick slices. 3. Remove the fish and set aside to cool. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add a touch (teaspoon) of sesame oil and throw in the sliced whites. Cook for 5 minutes and then add the sliced greens. Cook for 5 minutes more, until the chard becomes soft, and releases some liquids. Transfer into a colander and let cool. 4. Return the skillet to medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil and the onions. Cook to a light golden shade, and then add the garlic. Turn off the heat to let the garlic perfume the warm oil. Squeeze the cooked chard to release as much liquid as possible and then add it to the skillet and combine with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. 5. Blanch the whole leaves in boiling salted water for about 1 minute, until tender, but not limp. Strain, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. 6. Cut the cooked fillets into 2 cm. wide "fingers," or break into chunks. 7. Lay the leaves out on a work surface. Cut a V out of the white stem and remove. Place about 2 tablespoons of the chard in the center of each leaf, 2⁄3 of the way to the bottom. Flatten with a spoon, and place a bass "finger" on top. Fold the "wings" up from the bottom, tightening to make a cylinder. Fold the sides over, and then roll firmly. Dip the roll in a few drops of sesame oil, and roll in sesame seeds. 8. To serve, slice into 2 cm. thick medallions, arrange on a serving plate or small individual plates, drizzle a little of the vinaigrette over and add a few drops of soy sauce to give it some color. Serve alongside a bowl with additional sauce for dipping. SOY-LEMON VINAIGRETTE * 3 Tbsp. lemon juice * 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar (If you don't have good rice wine vinegar, it would be better to use 2 more Tbsp. of lemon juice than a poor-quality vinegar) * 2 Tbsp. soy sauce (again, only high quality stuff such as Kikkoman or it will do more harm than good) * 1 small garlic clove, minced finely. * 2 green onion bulbs, minced finely (whites and light green only) * Salt and pepper * 6 Tbsp. peanut oil (cold pressed) + 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1. Combine all the ingredients save the oil and onion in a bowl and whisk vigorously while slowly pouring in the oil. The vinaigrette should change to a lighter color and thicken as the oil and acids emulsify. You could do this in a small food processor or a blender if you wish. Add the onions last, so they are not blended into the vinaigrette. Keeps three days. "Instant" Swiss chard burekas This is a perfect "damn, we have the Cohens coming over tonight" recipe. I only cheat when circumstances are dire. To me, buying pre-made, margarine-filled pastry is cheating badly. Nevertheless, you'd be surprised how good this little shortcut tastes. * 1 bunch Swiss chard (about 500 gr.) washed well, cut into 1 cm. strips * 1 medium onion, chopped finely * 2 garlic cloves, minced * 100 gr. feta cheese, at least 16% fat (can be upgraded to any semi-hard or hard piquant cheese you like) * 1 large egg, beaten (reserve 1 Tbsp. for brushing) * 1⁄2 bunch mint leaves, washed and chopped * olive oil * Salt and freshly ground pepper * 600 gr. ready made thin puff pastry (1 package), defrosted * 2 to 3 Tbsp. sesame seeds 1. Pour about 3 tablespoons olive oil into a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, and cook to light brown. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. 2. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the Swiss chard. Cook until the chard is limp, and most of the liquids have evaporated (no water visible, just a moist mass of cooked chard). 3. Grate in the cheese. Add the mint and season to taste. Add the egg. 4. Roll out the pastry and cut into squares about 7 cm by 7 cm. Place a heaped teaspoon or two in the center - the more filling the merrier. Fold one corner towards the opposite corner to create a triangle. Press down firmly on the edges to seal the seam. Make all of the burekas. 5. Brush some of the reserved egg on top, and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. 6. You can either freeze your burekas at this point to be served right out of the oven, or place in a 190ºC oven until the burakas are browned nicely - about 15 minutes. Reheat gently to avoid burning.