Don't throw away your Swiss chard stalks

click to enlarge Bringing home a beautiful bouquet of rainbow chard stalks. - PHOTO BY ANN SHAFFER GLATZ
photo by Ann Shaffer Glatz
Bringing home a beautiful bouquet of rainbow chard stalks.
The restaurant I've been working at serves over 200 guests a day and we go through a lot of vegetables. When the produce orders come in, our prep cook, Alberto, trims off the parts that won't be used and transfers them into plastic boxes to be put on the shelves of the walk-in cooler. The trimmings go into a big blue compost bin which gets hauled away by one of our farmers to feed to his pigs.

Back at home, I often have a slow-cooker simmering away with homemade vegetable or chicken stock. I usually start my stock with carrots, celery, leek tops, parsley stems, onions and garlic. For stock you don't need perfect pieces of vegetables. You can use the root ends and skins of onions, the small inner cloves of garlic that are a pain in the butt to peel, the tops and bottoms of celery and carrots. So when I plan on making stock, I'll tell Alberto and the other cooks in the prep kitchen to save me their trimmings.

Now to be more accurate, when I say that "I" plan on making stock, it usually means that my wife will be making the stock because I get home late from work and have to leave super early in the morning. My transit bus commute takes over an hour each way.

My bus route takes me through some sketchy neighborhoods and my commute is often full of drama. Some really weird characters ride my bus. I sit up front in the section reserved for senior citizens and try to avoid making eye contact. However, when I board the bus after work toting a five-gallon bucket full of vegetable trimmings or poultry carcasses, I realize I must seem pretty weird myself.

I've come to view the concept of "waste not" as a moral imperative and I take pride in finding uses for stuff that usually gets thrown away. The other day at the restaurant I had to make a big batch of cheese filling with Swiss chard for our new tortellini pasta dish. The recipe calls for 1,200 grams of chard – just the leafy parts, not the stalks. It really takes a lot of chard to weigh out to 1,200 grams. Our farmer grows beautiful rainbow chard so, after prepping 1,200 grams of leaves, I was left with a big pile of multicolored stalks. I couldn't bear to toss them into the compost can for the pigs, so I tied them up into a bundle to take home to my wife.

"Look what I brought home for you!" I exclaimed enthusiastically. My wife rolled her eyes and asked: "What am I supposed to do with all that?" It's very easy to be enthusiastic about scavenging for food when you've got someone else to do all the work. Out of kindness and mercy, I gave her three easy recipes.

Lacto-fermented Swiss chard stalks

This one is quick and easy and good for your gut health.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons fine sea salt or 3½ tablespoons kosher or coarse white sea salt

1 quart filtered or distilled water

Reserved stalks from Swiss chard

1 dill sprig

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preparation:

Make the brine: Dissolve the salt in the water by warming in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Trim the chard stalks of any bits of leaves and cut into 1-2-inch lengths.

Place the dill and red pepper flakes into the bottom of a clean quart jar. Add the chard stalks.

Fill the jar with enough brine to cover the chard stalks, leaving at least a 1-inch headspace. Top with a fermentation weight or a small resealable sandwich bag filled with the remaining brine.

Cover with an airlock fermentation lid. Alternately, cover with a canning lid and "burp" daily by briefly loosening and retightening the lid to let the gases escape.

Place the jar in a cool, dark place and ferment for 2-5 days. Once chard is fermented to your desired taste, cover with a solid lid and refrigerate. The fermented chard stalks will keep for up to 2 months in the refrigerator.

Swiss chard stalk refrigerator pickles

These are quick pickles and not meant to be kept a long time, a month or two at the most. They make a nice addition to a charcuterie platter.

Ingredients:

½ cup white vinegar

½ cup rice vinegar

1 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons fine sea salt or 3½ tablespoons kosher or coarse white sea salt

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

2 thinly sliced scallions

1 thinly sliced jalapeno, seeds removed

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

½ teaspoon fennel seeds.

Preparation:

Make the pickling solution: Combine the vinegars, water, sugar and salt in a small, nonreactive saucepan. Gently warm and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Toast the mustard and fennel seeds in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently until fragrant, but not burned.

Trim the chard stalks of any bits of leaves and cut into 1-2-inch lengths.

Place the garlic, scallions, jalapeno and toasted seeds into the bottom of a clean quart jar. Add the chard stalks.

Fill the jar with the pickling solution. Cover and shake. Refrigerate for about one week before using.

Lebanese Swiss chard stalk dip

Lebanon has a tradition of making dips from roasted or boiled vegetables. Baba ghanoush is the best-known example. This rustic dip combines boiled chard stalks with tahini, garlic, lemon and olive oil. It is great with raw vegetables and pita. This dip can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Ingredients:

2 cups chopped chard stalks, trimmed and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Juice of 1 medium lemon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chopped fresh parsley for garnishing

Preparation:

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the chard stalks until soft and tender. Depending on the size of the stalks, it may take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Drain, squeeze out as much water as possible.

Place the garlic in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add the chard stalks and purée. Add the tahini, salt and lemon juice and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Transfer to a shallow bowl, drizzle with olive oil, garnish with chopped parsley and serve at room temperature.

Bertha Bus is on the road again. This time it's heading to the Southeast coast to explore the Low Country cuisine of the slave descendants known as the Gullah Geechee. Stay tuned, y'all!