A hearty winter green, Swiss chard is recognizable by its thick, flat central stem and its glossy green, slightly crinkled leaves. Until recently, red- or white-stemmed chard was mostly what you found in markets, but the beautiful Bright Lights variety, with stems of gold, orange, and pink, is now easier to come by. Colorful rainbow chard is the tastiest chard variety, because each color has a slightly different flavor. It has the familiar mineral quality of spinach, slightly exaggerated toward the flavor of beets (the red leaves even more so), with a mild sea-salty dimension as well. Chard can be used much like spinach in braises, gratins, and the like, though unlike spinach it's a bit too tough to serve raw.
A voluminous 1-pound bunch might look as if it could feed your whole neighborhood, but it will shrink when cooked to feed about four as a side dish.
Spinach can be substituted in most dishes. Other winter greens, like kale, can also substitute, but they may require longer cooking times.
Look for bunches with perky leaves and no decay on the stems.
Though the thick stems are good to eat, they take longer to cook than the leaves, so you'll need to remove them and cook them separately (or start them before you add the leaves). To remove the stems, simply lay each leaf flat run a sharp knife down both sides of the stem, as shown at right.
Swiss chard plays best with sweet and tangy combos—like maple and lime—or dried fruits and nuts. Also, anything creamy, like goat cheese or crème fraîche, mellows chard’s mineral edge.