Silver beet: also called Swiss chard. Silver beet can look terrific in the kitchen garden as it comes in several colours. The colour differences are mostly in the stalks, which can be white, yellow, orange, red or pink, although you can get some varieties with red stalks and red-black leaves. The variety with red stalks and green leaves is often sold as Ruby Chard.
Growing tips: grow silver beet in a sunny spot that is well fertilised in advance with plenty of well-rotted manure and compost dug into the soil. Silver beet grows well from seeds or seedlings, and spring is an ideal time to get started. Once plants are growing well, keep them growing with fortnightly liquid feeds. It’s best to grow several plants, to ensure a steady supply.
Harvesting: you can harvest just as many leaves as you like each time, you don’t have to pull up the whole plants. Always harvest the outermost leaves, twisting the stalks off at the base by hand. Harvesting this way, from the outside, encourages more leaves to grow to full size, and lets your silver beet plant keep on cropping for months.
Cooking basics: always wash silver beet well before cooking. Most cooks trim off the broad stalks and just cook the leaves, but you can cook the stalks, too (see our recipe, below, for a potato and silver beet stalk gratin to bake in the oven). The stalks can also be chopped and added to stir-fries. The leaves cook down a lot! You might think you have too much silver beet when you first put it in the pan, but when it wilts it collapses rapidly.
Easy cooking ideas: silver beet leaves or stalks can be steamed, or they can also be pan-fried or stir-fried in butter, oil or margarine. Always wash and chop them prior to cooking. Next time you cook silver beet, try sprinkling in some ground nutmeg as well as salt and freshly ground pepper. Chopped bacon or ham also teams well with silver beet, so toss some into the pan a minute or so before you add the silver beet. Another flavour combo to try is to add pine nuts and sultanas to silver beet as it stir-fries. You could also try silver beet with chopped onion and garlic, or a squeeze of lemon juice, or with crumbled blue cheese, or stirred into a fresh tomato sauce flavoured with garlic.
Baked silver beet with tomato and feta
In this recipe, you cook the silver beet stalks as well as the leaves, so you get full value from your silver beet crop!
1 whole bunch silver beet
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional)
ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
400g can chopped tomatoes
100g feta cheese
1. Wash the silver beet well. Slice the white stalks crosswise into 1cm wide chunks, and shred the green leaves coarsely into strips.
2. Put the stalks into a steamer and steam for 5 minutes, then add the chopped leaves on top of the stalks in the steamer and steam until the leaves wilt (5-10 minutes more). Mix together the stalks and wilted leaves, then set aside. Optional extra: add the nutmeg and ground black pepper to the steamed silver beat.
3. In a saucepan make a simple tomato sauce (you can cheat and use bottled tomato sauce, if you like). Heat the olive oil, fry the onion for 5 minutes until softened, then add the garlic and fry 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat until bubbling, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes more.
4. Preheat the oven to hot (220°C). In a gratin dish or pie dish, spoon out some of the tomato sauce to cover the base. Top this with the steamed silver beet stems and leaves. Top with the rest of the tomato sauce, then crumble all of the feta cheese over the top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cheese starts to brown. Serve as a side dish, or as light meal with a bowl of cooked pasta such as penne or shells on the side.
Tracy Rutherford’s silver beet & potato soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1kg floury potatoes (such as Sebago), peeled, chopped
5 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 bunch silver beet, washed, trimmed, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon chopped dill
cayenne pepper, to taste
sour cream, to serve
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
2. Add the potatoes and stock, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender.
3. Add the silver beet and cook until wilted. Cool the soup slightly, and use a wand (hand) blender or food processor to process until smooth. Stir in the juice, rind and dill. Season with cayenne pepper to taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream.
Easy silver beet salad
It’s best to use young, tender silver beet leaves for this salad, not big, old tough ones.
2 rashers bacon, trimmed of fat and finely sliced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small bunch silver beet (about 8 stalks), green leaves only, sliced into 1cm strips
1 small red onion, sliced into thin rings
75g blue cheese (try Blue Castello, or Gippsland Blue), crumbled
1/3 cup mayonnaise
30g walnuts, chopped
1. Heat the oil in a frypan, add the bacon strips and fry until crisp, then drain on paper towels.
2. Put the silver beet leaves, onion and blue cheese in a salad bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle over the mayonnaise, then sprinkle with bacon strips and walnuts, then serve as a side dish.