In season late winter: Silver beet
This dark-green, leafy vegetable is called chard, Swiss chard in the US and is sometimes referred to as spinach in Australia. Silver beet has a more bitter flavour than the spinach we know. Leaves can be smooth or curly and stems can be white, red, orange, purple, pink or yellow.
White-stemmed and yellow-stemmed silver beet have a milder flavour than the red-stemmed variety. Choose silver beet with crisp green leaves and with firm stems.
Keep silver beet in a plastic bag in the fridge, away from produce that emits ethylene, for up to five days. Silver beet can be frozen: Remove stems (which don’t freeze well) and place cut leaves in boiling water for about two minutes. Drain then immerse in ice water. Dry leaves as much as possible then place in plastic bags, seal and freeze flat.
Silver beet is a good source of vitamins B6, C and E as well as beta-carotene, folate and iron. It is also rich in vitamin K which helps maintain normal bone growth and development plus antioxidants important for eye health. If, however, you are at risk of arthritis, kidney stones or gout, the leaves of silver beet contain oxalic acid so should be eaten in moderation.
The leaves of younger plants can be shredded and used in salads. Both leaves and stem are edible but as the stems take slightly longer to cook, cook leaves and stems separately. For a quick vege side, stir-fry silver beet leaves with garlic and olive oil, or add nutmeg to enhance the flavour, or add a splash of balsamic – and use any leftovers as a pizza topping. Add silver beet to cooked potatoes in a hot frying pan or add chopped leaves to a soup. Use silver beet where you would use spinach, such as in a frittata: add two beaten eggs to chopped silver beet in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, scatter sliced ham over and cook top under grill.
Did you know? Silver beet is actually a beet – without the bulbous root and with extra large leaves.