Spicy rainbow chard on creamy polenta

RainbowChardPolentaTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2014

I can always spot them.  So can you.  And who are they? The cool kids. You know, they are the ones that everyone wants to hang out with; that everyone wants to have their picture taken with; the ones that hog all the front pages and win all the popularity contests.  It just doesn’t seem fair.  I mean, you grew up side by side in the vegetable patch, equally tall and proud and leafy; and then all of a sudden your chlorophyllous cousin gets discovered by some nutritionist talent scout on the lookout for the Next Big Vegetable and catapulted to the heights of superfood stardom.  You, on the other hand, with your sparkling personality, neat handwriting and hidden nutritional assets, languish in obscurity, passed over by shoppers who are never quite sure what to do with you.   It’s kale this and kale that, from soups to salads to smoothies (and of course the ubiquitous kale chips), and it is touted to cure everything ailment from acne to zygomycosis (trust me you don’t want to Wikipedia this….).  But why do we overlook chard?

Chard is a leafy vegetable a member of the beet family and also related to amaranth, another superfood whose seeds are often found ground up in a nutrient-rich but gluten-free flour.  Nobody seems to know how long we have cultivated chard, but consensus seems to be that it is a Mediterranean plant and Greek philosopher Aristotle is said to have mentioned red-stalked chard as far back as 350 BC.  Although it isn’t much used in  in modern herbalism, chard (and the entire beet family) has a long history of medicinal use, especially in the treatment of tumours and ulcers. But medicinal uses aside, the rainbow variety of chard  is a surprisingly pretty vegetable, with leaves ruffled like a Spanish dancer’s petticoats and stems that range in colour from pale white, to sunny yellow, to peony pink, to a deep blood red.


RainbowChardRaw © J Horak-Druiff 2014

But there’s more! Chard is easier to grow organic than, say, spinach as it is more robust and more resistant to pests and diseases.  Chard will provide leafy greens throughout summer long after other leafy greens have become bitter and inedible; and if winters are relatively mild, chard can provide greens through the winter (with a little protection).  Chard fans are usually divided into those who eat the stems, and those who don’t as they can be a little stringy, but once chopped and sautéed till they soften, I find them both vividly colourful and delicious.  When young, the leaves can be chopped raw into a salad but some find their taste too strong and prefer to steam or sautée them like spinach. Even the flowering stem can be steamed and eaten like broccoli. The even better news is that chard is massively nutritious: one cup of cooked  leaves contains over 200% of your daily vitamin A requirements; over 50% of your vitamin C requirements; an astonishing 716% of your vitamin K requirements (more than kale!) as well as calcium (10%), iron (22%) and magnesium (38%).   It is also rich in dietary fiber and (surprisingly) protein, and rainbow chard’s colourful pigments means it packs a punch in terms of anti-oxidant phytonutrients and polyphenol antioxidants (one of which – syringic acid – has the potential to control high blood sugar).

 To paraphrase Dirty Dancing, nobody puts chard in a corner. 

This chard comes from Nick’s allotment, and this recipe comes from the November 2012 edition of Sunset magazine – and I cannot say enough good things about it. The creamy polenta provides the satisfying comfort of carbohydrates; the rainbow chard provides an earthy leafiness with a less pronounced”iron-y” taste than spinach can sometimes have; and of course everything is better with bacon and Parmesan. It’s naturally gluten-free, and if you leave out the bacon it is also vegetarian – but more importantly, it’s comfort food of the highest order. So keep your kale smoothies – my money is on chard this year.

RainbowChardFinal © J Horak-Druiff 2014


If, like me, you are a chard fan, then you might enjoy these recipes from other bloggers:


5.0 from 4 reviews
Spicy rainbow chard on creamy polenta
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Chard is the lesser known and prettier cousin of kale and here it is jazzed up with a little spice and a little bacon before serving on creamy, cheesy polenta. It's naturally gluten-free and if you leave out the bacon it's also vegetarian!
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4
  • 165g (1 cup) polenta
  • 1 litre (4 cups) + 85ml (1/3 cup) cold water
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 75g (6oz) good quality bacon, chopped
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • about 700g (1.5lbs) rainbow chard ribs (stems cut into 1cm pieces and leaves chopped into 1.5cm wide strips)
  • ¼ tsp red chile flakes (more if you like it spicy!)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 30g (1/3 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  1. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat and add the salt; then add the polenta in a steady stream while whisking continuously. Carry on whisking until the polenta starts to thicken, then cover, lower the heat and cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring vigorously every ten minutes or so to prevent sticking and lumps.
  2. In the meantime, cook the bacon in a large frying pan until crisp, then drain on paper towels.
  3. Discard the bacon fat from pan, then heat the oil in same pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots, garlic, and chard ribs in the oil until softened (should take 4-5 minutes), then stir in chard leaves, chile flakes, and ⅓ cup water. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the leaves are wilted.
  4. Stir the butter and Parmesan cheese into the prepared polenta and spoon into shallow bowls.  Add the vinegar to the chard pan and toss to coat, then spoon the chard over the polenta.  Top each bowl with bacon bits and serve hot.

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Rate this recipe:  

  1. says

    This looks fantastic! I am missing my garden chard; really need to get a greenhouse at the new place (to keep the deer away!) Thanks for featuring one of my recipes!

  2. says

    Nah I can’t get on with chard. Doesn’t do it for me at all. Now polenta on the other hand… I could get through bowls of the stuff.

  3. says

    Ahh I fully empathise with the humble chard. love your recipe and the combination with wet polenta – I have been experimenting with grits recently too which are similar. Might try this chard out with the remnants of my grit packet.

  4. says

    This kale trend is getting hyper boring and although I have never eaten this vegetable (I haven’t found any here yet), I bet it is overrated! Chard is delicious, versatile and healthy too.

    Your polenta dish is wonderful and looks mouthwatering! A great combination of flavors and ingredients.



  5. says

    I agree, it’s bizarre chard is so rarely seen for sale in the UK. I don’t think I’d even heard of it until I saw it in a River Cafe book and to this day, apart from the odd farmer’s market I’ve probably only seen it for sale in a supermarket a handful of times.

    Love the look of this dish, especially the cheeky bacon addition 😉

  6. says

    I love chard so much, though they call it silverbeet here in Oz. :-) Bear thinks kale is from the devil, but he’ll nosh on silverbeet every day. :-) This dish sounds delish!

  7. says

    Great recipe Jeanne, and a super big-up for this often (at least until recently) ignored vegetable. Because I grow it in my back garden (you are right it is easy and relatively pest resistant) I probably have chard a few times a week, often just steam-frying it with a little garlic and chopped kimchi or a sprinkle of za’atar and having it with my avocado toast for breakfast (chased by mouthwash!). And I do something similar to this recipe but no bacon, using smooshed anchovies, lemon juice and zest instead. Although I do love kale, I have to say I prefer chard esp because the stems are so useful – no waste. Lovely images and recipe! You will convert a few chard-phobes here :-)

  8. says

    Chard is a wonderful vegetable. I rediscovered it when I was “gardening” in communal allotment. Pity it doesn’t make to market stalls often enough. Must try to source some to try out your recipe, sounds lovely