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Thursday, October 14, 2010


Swiss Chard
Photo by: Lord-Williams
OCast açelga, Ar. silqa, L. Beta vulgaris, Ar. al-sulqa, silga, Fr. chardon (thistle), Eng Swiss chard, wild chard, a beet with white leaf stalks, spinach beet or silver beet. It is a fat fleshy legume with the appearance of a thick pale green carrot growing from 1.5 to 2m high. It consists of a beet with large thick stalks and inedible roots. Greek and Byzantine documents confirm that it was cultivated and consumed as food by 600 B.C. As a native to the Mediterranean, it is thought to have originated in Sicily. In medieval times, Arab cooks claimed they brought it from northern Africa and introduced it to Al-Andalus. Until the end of the 13 C. chard around Cordova was not popular. Then it became a specialty for a minority, as it was an appreciated food item among Muslims and Jews. For Christians, it was a monastic and a poor man’s food. Slowly, however, chard made its way to noble tables as it adapted to the flavor desired and it was consumed in a great variety of ways. It can be prepared like spinach or added to salads. Too, it can be used as a substitute for asparagus. Ii is added frequently to stews and soups. The Muslims used the thick stalks separated from the leaves. From this came expressions like ‘beet fingers.’ Further, Arabs boiled chard with chickpeas, pomegranate or sumac juice. Too, the stalks could be fried, baked, marinated or simply eaten with a little garum and salt and pepper. Villena’s chard is marinated, probably in verjuice, salt and pepper. By boiling milk and throwing the flowers on it, milk curdled faster. Chard always has been recommended for vegetarian diets and thought important in diets of the elderly for its high vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium content. Medieval Spaniards said, “edible chard is chard from the vegetable garden.” Gradually eggplant and artichoke dishes in Andalusia replaced chard but peasants continued to eat the stems. Medically, it has been use to purge the head, the juice, with honey, it was put in the nostrils. It is good for earaches too. As a remedy from dandruff and lice, the hair is washed with water in which chard leaves and the roots have been boiled. Further, this relieves itching. Raw leaves are rubbed on leprosy sores for the nitrous content and then the leaves are left on affected areas. This method also is used for ringworm and other sores on the skin. After boiling chard, it is applied to scabs caused by St. Anthony’s fire (see fuego de San Antón) and burns. Like beets, chard contains a high level of sugar and water out of which syrups, vegetable juices and medicinal infusions were made. To clean the intestines, people in the Middle Ages ate the roots and drank infusions. Also see cardo corredo, cardo silvestre and remolacha. [Bolens. Cuisine. 1990:29; Capuano. 1988:90; Chirino/Herrera. 1973:238; Espasa. 1988:11:CANAL.866-867;  Nola/Iranzo. 1982:168; and Villena/Navarro. 1879:44]

For 4-6 persons
A delightful change from legumes in winter.

Tarda with Swiss Chard
Photo by: Lord-Williams


¼ c virgin olive oil
1 lb beef or mutton
1 garlic clove mashed
1 tbsp ea of 6 herbs chopped such as: rue, thyme, parsley, celery leaves, tarragon and sage
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 diced onion - 7 oz/200 gr
2 meat bouillon cubes
2 bay leaves
1 carrot - ½ c diced
1 celery stick - ½ c diced
2 bunches or 1 3/4 bl/800 grs Swiss chard, cleaned and chopped
2 tbsp vinegar
1 ½ c port
1½ c red wine
6 eggs beaten
3 1/2 oz/100 grs bread or 1/2 baguette
2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cinnamon
6 sprigs or parsley


Mix the herbs with the garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Cut meat into pieces and roll it in the herb mixture. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the meat, herbs and onions. When the meat is browned and the onion is soft cover the mixture with 4 cups cold water. When the water begins to boil add the bay leaves, celery and carrots. Bring this to a boil and let it boil gently for 15 minutes. Add the vinegar, port and red wine. STOP here if preparing ahead of time.

Bring the mixture to a brisk boil. Add the chard and boil for 3 minutes. While stirring non-stop pour in the eggs. Crumble the bread into the mixture. Remove bay leaves. Serve in soup bowls. Sprinkle pepper and cinnamon over each and add a sprig of parsley.

*Tharda means the addition of crumbled bread or sopes in broth or sauce.

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