Chard is versatile and useful in any recipe that calls for spinach, the young leaves are good in salads and the mature leaves can be used for stuffing. For cooking purposes chard (and leaf beet generally, with the exception of spinach beet which has smaller stalks, so more resembles true spinach) is treated like two separate vegetables. The large, tender stalks and midribs taste and can be eaten like seakale, while the rest of the leaf is cut away and cooked like spinach (with a less acid taste).
To prepare simply: Wash and shake out the excess water, on more mature leaves, chop the stem separately from the leaf. Saute the sliced stems for a couple of minutes before adding the chopped leaf. Put the lid on and cook for around 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and a little lemon juice or vinegar if you fancy.
Leaf beets and beetroot were both cultivated from wild sea-beet, but beetroot has been selectively bred to have a single swollen root and leaf beets to have highly nutritious leaves, particularly with enlarged, succulent stalks and midribs. Leaf beets include spinach beet, seakale beet, ruby chard and silver beet, also known as Swiss chard. ("Swiss" was first used in 19th-century seed catalogues to distinguish the vegetable from French varieties.)
Chard is a very popular garden vegetable because it matures fast, doesn't bolt, and produces plentifully from autumn through winter and well into the next summer. It makes an ideal cut-and come-again crop, and it does well in containers. It's also extremely handsome, with its brightly-coloured stalks, ribs and veins, and contrasting green leaves, as ornamental as they are nutritious.
NUTRITION & HEALTH It's certainly among the healthiest vegetables one can eat; high in vitamins A, C and K, minerals, dietary fibre and protein.
HISTORY Chard has long been a popular food throughout the Mediterranean - the first varieties are thought to have come from Sicily. It's a particularly favourite in France (their word for 'chard' being used to denote the rib or stalk rather than the whole leaf), where recipes abound for cooking the stalks like celery or cardoons, in a range of different sauces. The French also use the coarser-tasting green leaves in soups, black puddings, pates and stuffed cabbage.