There is very little in the way of history around silverbeet, mainly due to the sheer amount of different words used to describe the plant. One could hardly accuse the medieval English of a flair for language, but they alone used ten different words used to describe the leafy green. To make things more confusing, the two Italian words for silverbeet sound almost identical, although one is often used only to describe the white stalk, rather than the leaf itself.
In its current state silverbeet is also known as chard, Swiss chard and seakale beet. The origin of the ‘Swiss’ addition is a source of much confusion for food historians, as the Mediterranean plant doesn’t naturally grow anywhere near Switzerland.
In culinary uses, silverbeet is similar to spinach but has a stronger flavour. Silverbeet usually has a white stalk. However, red beet is sometimes available; it has the same green leaves but has a rich pink-red stem and veins. Silverbeet grows all year round and is easy to cultivate.
When buying silverbeet, choose crisp green leaves with firm white stalks. Avoid leaves that are wilted or damaged. Availability won’t be an issue, as silverbeet can be purchased year-round. After buying, refrigerate in plastic bags and use promptly.
When preparing, wash stalks and leaves at least twice. Remove stalks and centre ribs and cut to requirements if using. Cut or tear leaves. Shake off excess water. When cooking leaves, don’t add water as the water that clings to them after washing is sufficient. The stems can be removed from the leafy section and cooked like asparagus, or sliced and cooked. Both the stems and leaves can be used together; the stems take longer to cook so add the leaves three to four minutes after the stems. Silverbeet suits quick cooking methods like stir-frying, steaming or microwaving.
The young leaves can be used raw in a salad, but silverbeet is usually eaten cooked. Puréed or finely chopped silverbeet makes an excellent base for many dishes, or use blanched leaves as a wrap. Silverbeet can be boiled, microwaved, steamed or stir-fried.
Silverbeet is a good source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C. It is also a source of vitamin E, folate and vitamin B6 and contains dietary fibre and a significant amount of potassium. Phytonutrients abound in silverbeet including carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) and some flavonoids
An excellent idea for using red chard comes from executive Chef Sebastion Hindrick from Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour. Hindrick uses red chard on a dish of Bream Bay Kingfish with mandarin, cucumber jus, daikon, samphire and horseradish.