Yesterday I made it to the Farmer’s Market. That alone felt like an accomplishment. Not that I found my way there, but that I remembered. It’s a defeat that’s hard to for me to bear when I get a hankering for something fresh out of the ground on Saturday at 2pm.
When I sauntered up to the Tumbleweed Farms booth, the rainbow chard practically leapt off the table into my basket. It was a moment of reckoning.
Chard and me have had a one of those relationships you might have with the prettiest girl in high school—when she acknowledges you in the hallway, you can’t help but smile back, but inside you are scowling.
Looking at all those lovingly assembled bundles standing at attention, I’m thinking: yeah sure, you’re all show-and-glow with your fancy stems and bubbly leaves that I can practically see my reflection in, but I know you, you can taste faintly of dirt, you hog the vegetable drawer, and you too often end up as a wilted pile that I toss with a sharp pang of guilt.
Part of my resistance to chard, is its insistence. Its brazenly beautiful, earthy character demands attention. To do anything but treat it respectfully seems an amateur’s affront and handicaps its potential. But I can be a lazy cook, expecting the ingredients to do the work for me.
The next day when I opened the fridge, the ends of those bright rainbow stems were pointing at me, offering deliverance. Being a Sunday morning, I was short on excuses that I sometimes use to get me out of cooking, like work deadlines and school lunches to pack. Plus, I recalled, there is a degree from Le Cordon Bleu buried somewhere in my filing cabinet (Yes, I still have one of those).
I had to remind myself that the process is where inspiration usually finds me. Cookbooks and food magazines have their role, but the act of choosing and picking up a knife is how I close the gap between inertia and momentum. Plus, in this case, deconstructing chard into leaves and stems both instantly reduces its power and creates a practical solution as the stems cook at a different rate.
Over and over again I conclude that leafy greens’ greatest expression comes from a quick blast of heat and quality fat. Olive oil delivers the right flash point for this fare and complements its earthiness. Go lightly on the oil however—greasy greens can feel like a treat (mmm, maybe I can live without bacon!) but you risk an algae-like mouthfeel.
To avoid this unpleasantness, cut them into narrow ribbons, and toss them in a sauté pan that’s been heated to medium-high and has enough oil to coat the bottom generously. You should hear sizzling. Sprinkle in some salt and move them around a bit to coat them with the oil. Then let them sit there and protest a bit. After a minute or so, add a few tablespoons of water and step back. Notice how they suddenly seem tamed as the water evaporates, both simmering and steaming the greens as it does.
When they are still shiny but there are no significant pools of liquid, take them off the heat and let them decorate the bottom of your dish. This alone may have your mouth watering. But to me, in that moment, they seemed terribly lonely and bored.
I’m always looking for platforms on which to scoop out a perfectly soft-boiled egg and let it drool over its platemate. And here it was, again. In my book, most things edible, certainly as the main dish, benefit from a little enrichment. The color combo alone had me. If you can’t lick your plate without tablemates gasping at you, add a couple toast points for mopping up.
With no food hangover in site and pans that barely require the scrubby side of the sponge, I mentally filed this one under both #everydaydelicious and #norecipeneeded. I may have even decided that chard can be in my clique.
* This post first appeared in the Hood River News' "Savor" magazine on Saturday, September 30, 2017.