If it is true that we first eat with our eyes, it is no wonder that bunches of chard often land in my market bag -- their vibrant rainbow of red, orange, and yellow stems are hard to pass up. While I’ve long enjoyed slicing up chard’s ruffled green leaves and tossing them into my sauté pan, their firm stalks often leave me uninspired, despite the fact that they’re also edible. Translation: The same colorful stems that initially entice me often sadly end up at the bottom of our compost bin.
Recently, I’ve been making an effort to change my relationship with chard stems. These often overlooked stems have a subtle earthy flavor, similar to beets, and are wonderful when roasted and served in warm entrées. However, I find I like these stalks best when served cold and with a bit of bite.
All it takes to transform fibrous chard stems into creative table pickles is a quick blanch followed by a bath in a basic, easy-to-make brine. I like to think of this brine as a sort of suggested recipe -- so long as the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar ratios remain intact, you can freely substitute or toss in supplemental seasonings to best suit your tastes. All out of white wine vinegar? Try rice or cider vinegar instead. Not in the mood for spice? Swap out the pepper flakes for fennel or caraway seeds. Regardless of what seasonings you choose, the final result is a crunchy, celery-like pickle that is an unexpected addition to your next platter of crudités, your favorite cold weather sandwich, or a bloody Mary bar.
2 large bunches of chard, leaves removed 1 cup white wine vinegar 1/2 cup water 3 tablespoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons sugar 2 cloves garlic, smashed 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
Thoroughly rinse the chard stems. Trim their ends and remove any remaining leaves with a sharp knife. In a large saucepan, blanch the stems for one minute. Immediately drain the stems and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Add all remaining ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. In the meantime, tightly pack the chard stems into a glass jar and set aside. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the brine to cool slightly, about one to two minutes. Pour the brine into the jar, being sure to cover the chard stems completely. Allow to cool to room temperature. Seal the jar with a tight fitting lid. When kept covered and chilled, the pickles will keep well for 1 to 2 weeks.