I didn’t know this until I started blogging this recipe – Chard, sometimes called Swiss chard or rainbow chard (when it sports brightly colored stalks), really is a relative of the beet. But unlike traditional beets — which put their energy into producing finger-staining roots, chard, instead, produces big, tender leaves and crunchy stalks. You must’ve surely spotted them in your local Farmer’s Markets or in grocery stores.
I grow these beauties in the winter in my backyard and use it as a substitute for greens in several Indian dishes and throw a handful in soups as well. They do well in salads as well, so long as you relish the slightly bitter taste – similar to kale and arugula.
Rainbow chard is irresistible, the colors are unlike any other vegetable, they’re almost unbelievable. I so love those colored stalks – bright yellow-golds, orange and red with red veins running up into the leaves. I just love staring at Mother Nature’s miracles in little things.
A lot of people think they have to discard the stems!!! Nooooo…the stems are delicious and crunchy – eat them every day and you’ll live to be a hundred. LOL! This has not a proven fact, but with so much research going on…who knows…I may be right. 🙂 That said, you better believe it, rainbow chard isn’t just pretty; like all dark leafy greens it’s a super food exploding with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. It’s fat free, and very low in calories.
No matter how you cook rainbow chard, remember that it has some red chard in it and will “bleed” red when cooked, tinging adjacent foods a lovely shade of pink. For the evenest cooking, remove the colored ribs/stems from the leaves, then chop the stems and start cooking them before you add the leaves. Rainbow Chard when combined with onions, black pepper and garam masala, uses aromatics and spices to tame the sometimes bitter or metallic edge of chard.
Now, about the other protagonist in this recipe: Red Lentils. Known as masoor dal in North India, this is one of the easiest dals to cook on the stove top. Other lentils/dals like toor dal (pigeon peas) need to be soaked and pressured cooked. These lovely red lentils don’t need much coaxing to cook.
Variations to the Recipe: This recipe has a bit of North India (red masoor dal, garam masala combo), a bit of South India (tangy tamarind!), and a bit of a local flavor (what else but rainbow chard). Want to get a little more creative and adventurous? Then try adding some minced garlic and grated ginger along with the onions to take this dish’s nutrition and taste by a few more notches. Not only do these two foods add incredible flavor and aroma to dishes, they can be used either as regular health boosters or as instant remedies to help relieve a wide variety of conditions, including inflammation. Want to make it a little more closer home to South India? Replace garam masala with sambar powder or rasam powder. Go to town with ideas, people!
When the skies are drab, and life feels a little gray and chilly, I am absurdly cheered by the fresh brightness of this vibrantly orange dal. When this red lentil is stewed and spiced with turmeric, tamarind and garam masala, and colored with rainbow chard and tomatoes, it is totally heartening. Just seeing that mixture in the pan lifts my spirits. It helps that a dal is simple to make: a bit of chopping and the stew all but cooks itself. And it can be made in advance and then reheated, always a bonus. This dal makes a wonderful, exuberant partner in this wonderful recipe.
If you love lentils and greens and balance of simplicity and taste, check out a few other recipes on our website: