Despite its name, Swiss chard only got its association with Switzerland during the 19th century—when, as the story goes, seed catalogs renamed the vegetable in a branding effort to differentiate it from the globe artichoke known as “chardon.”
The leafy green actually has culinary origins that can be traced back to ancient Greece, and features prominently in traditional recipes across Southern Europe and North Africa. And unlike in the U.S.—where only the leaves tend to be used in cooking—these recipes use chard in its entirety, leaves, stalk and all. An easy way to add flavor, texture and color.
We especially like morshan, a hearty stew of Swiss chard and chickpeas that Paula Wolfert describes in her book “Mediterranean Cooking.” Though this particular dish is from Tunisia, variations abound. In Spain, they add cured ham; in Syria, it is lentils; in Turkey, cinnamon.
Wolfert’s go-to version is the one that’s favored in the coastal Tunisian Sahel region and the island of Djerba to the southeast. Rich with onion, garlic, tomato paste and a heady, coriander-heavy spice mixture (as well as a touch of heat, usually from harissa), this dish impressed us with its simplicity and bright, clean flavors. Not to mention its versatility: As Wolfert points out, this substantial side can be eaten hot or cold and—served alongside cheese, bread, pickles or other meze—can easily make for a light meal.
At Milk Street, we discovered we could further streamline this already efficient dish. Wolfert’s recipe calls for the stems to be parboiled before being added to the pot with the other ingredients. But we found an even faster way: Add them raw.
We start by browning tomato paste with the spices and aromatics to build a rich flavor base. To that, we add the chopped chard stems, chickpeas and canned tomatoes, sautéing until the stems have softened. We then mash the chickpeas, which thickens the stew. Finally, we add the chard leaves, wilting them just enough so that their moisture is absorbed into the mixture while preserving their green color. The finished dish gets additional warmth from a dash of cayenne pepper.
A dish made better by the parts we too often toss out.