Chard, sometimes called Swiss chard or rainbow chard, is an earthy tasting dark leafy green. Swiss chard is highly nutritious and can be eaten on it's own as a side dish, or mixed into soups, stir-fries and pasta dishes. Even though swiss chard is a delicious leafy-green, it is easy to find an equally delicious substitute for swiss chard too!
Swiss chard has been a staple vegetable in my house for years. Admittedly, my children aren't fond of sautéed swiss chard, but my husband and I love it. We usually sauté chard, but we've also juiced chard and mixed it into soups and stews.
During the summer months, we've grown it in our garden or harvested it from my parent's garden. It requires virtually no prep-time to cook, beyond rinsing, and cooks down in a sauté pan in minutes.
Chard often takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking it with, but also has a distinct flavor of it's own.
What is chard?
Swiss chard is a dark, leafy green vegetable, with stalks that range in color from white to green to red, yellow and orange. Chard has large, fan-like, textured green leaves. Chard is packed with vitamins and minerals and is very low in calories, making it a weight loss friendly food.
You might be wondering how does swiss chard taste? When eaten raw, swiss chard leaves can taste slightly bitter. When cooked, the leaves turn less bitter and more mild and slightly sweet. The leaves are often separated from the stalks before cooking, but the stalks are edible as well! Swiss chard is similar to beet greens, spinach and kale, and you can substitute swiss chard for any of these leafy greens.
How to cook swiss or rainbow chard
You'll first want to rinse and dry the swiss chard. After that, separate the leaves from the stems using a sharp knife. You can cut the leaves into thin ribbons or chopped into larger pieces. You can discard the stems, or chop them up into ½ inch long pieces and cook them as well! It really depends on what you're doing with the chard. Are you sautéing the chard on it's own as a side-dish? I would include the stems. Will you be adding the chard to a soup or stew? I would throw the stems into those dishes as well!
If you're making swiss chard as a side dish, cooking swiss chard is very quick and easy. Simply heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the swiss chard (or rainbow chard) to the sauté pan, and cook for a few minutes, until the chard has softened and wilted.
Season the chard with salt, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes or fresh herbs. You can sauté the chard along with fresh garlic and sliced white onion.
Substitutes for swiss chard
If you're making a recipe that calls for swiss chard, but you don't have it on-hand, any of these leafy greens would make excellent swiss chard substitutes.
Kale, spinach, beet greens, mustard greens, bok choy, Napa cabbage and collard greens can all be a rainbow chard or a swiss chard substitute in a recipe.
Kale is a nutrient-dense, low-calorie, green leafy vegetable. Kale leaves can be either green or purple and curly or flat. Kale can be sautéed, steamed, juiced, eaten raw, dehydrated into kale chips and mixed into soups and stews. Similarly to swiss chard, kale is often separated from it's stems, but the stems CAN be eaten if that is your preference! Kale is a bit heartier than chard, so if you want to replace swiss chard with kale, you may have to cook it a little longer than you would cook chard. This Kale Crunch Salad from Fresh Apron sounds like a delicious way to eat fresh kale!
Spinach is an inexpensive, easy to prepare, dark leafy green vegetable. It is one of the few dark leafy greens that can be purchased canned and frozen! Flat-leaf, baby spinach is regularly found in your favorite grocery store and can be mixed into a variety of dishes. The #1 way that I eat baby spinach, is sautéed into my scrambled eggs each morning, or in my Zucchini & Feta Breakfast Skillet. Savoy spinach would be the best substitute for swiss chard. Savoy spinach has large, thick, curly leaves, a slightly bitter flavor, and is best eaten cooked.
Beet greens are the long, leafy tops of beets. They grow out of the ground and are what you grab onto when harvesting fresh beets from the earth. Beet greens, also known as beet tops or bulls blood, have a mild and earthy flavor. They are best substituted for sautéed swiss chard, and like swiss chard, both the leaf and the stem can be eaten. I think beet greens look the most similar to swiss chard leaves as well.
Mustard greens are another highly nutritious dark green leafy vegetable. They have a strong peppery flavor and are often eaten cooked. Mustard greens are the leaves of the brown mustard plant and are similar in taste to arugula. Cooked mustard greens can easily be substituted for cooked swiss chard.
Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage and a cruciferous vegetable. It is also known as pak choi or pok choi. The leaves and stem of bok choy can be consumed. However, if you're going to cook bok choy, you'll want to separate the leaves from the stems first, because the leaves cook much faster than the stems. Unlike spinach, bok choy does not lose much volume when cooking. You can stir-fry, braise or roast bok choy. Baby bok choy is more mild in flavor, while a more mature bok choy and be slightly bitter.
Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, is in the same family as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Napa cabbage is an oblong shape with long, crinkly, pale green leaves that are similar in appearance to romaine lettuce leaves. Napa cabbage can be eaten raw in a salad or slaw, steamed, stir-fried or cooked over time in a stew. It is popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine, but in a pinch, it could be substituted for swiss chard.
Collard greens are popular in Southern U.S. cuisine. They have large, dark green fan-like leaves with tough stems. Collard greens have a bitter taste and tough texture when raw, but once cooked, they soften up and become more mild in flavor. Since the stems are pretty tough, the leaves are usually separated from the stems and the stems are not included in the dish. Collard greens would make for an excellent swiss chard replacement in a recipe.
Swiss chard recipes
After all of this talk about swiss chard, I bet you're craving it now! Here are few delicious sounding swiss chard recipes.
- Garlicky Swiss Chard
- Swiss Chard Tahini Dip
- Swiss Chard and Mushroom Galette
- Creamed Swiss Chard with Bacon
How to choose a substitute
Choosing a substitute for chard could be a tough decision! The first thing I would do is check my local grocery store and see which of the substitutes that I listed above are available. Which available option is the freshest? Which option is the best price?
The next question I would ask myself is what option would best make sense with the recipe that I am making. If I was making a soup or stew, I would probably choose kale, collard greens, spinach or beet greens. If I was making a raw salad, I would not choose collard greens and would probably opt for the kale or spinach.
The Napa cabbage and bok choy are commonly used in Chinese cuisine. I would keep that in mind if was considering one of those choices for my chard substitution.
Whatever you choose, I hope this article helped you figure out the best alternative to swiss chard for your recipe!